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Crows. They're members of the Corvus family. Their beady eyes, black wings, annoying caw, what's not to like?
Something happened a few years ago, something unusual, beyond normal, more than hungry...
It was Summer, the best time of year to kick back and relax. For my holidays, I was spending them at log cabin in the middle of Murder Wood.
I know what you're thinking, there was a murderer, right? Wrong! It was called Murder Wood because it was home to a group of crows, or a murder. If you were a bird-watcher or biologist, you would love to be there for a week, which is how long my visit was.
I was staying with my cousin, who was studying the behavior of crows. She loved crows, and not only did she decide to study them as a scientist, she also bought a log cabin in the outskirts of Murder Wood.
I was unpacking my things in the spare room. It had a window with a nice view of the wood. I could see thick, ancient trees, three or four crows flying through the leaves, a dark figure walking into Murder Wood, and-
Hold on, dark figure?
I looked back at where the figure had been, but the person had disappeared.
I had a late lunch: a sandwich, some lemonade and a cookie.
Because the log cabin was old-fashioned, I had to do a few things. The only things that were modern were my cousin's scientific equipment.
First, I had to collect firewood, for the furnace and fireplace. I kept an eye out for the figure, but it didn't show up. Instead, all I could hear were crows cawing, just like they do.
Next, I had to unweed the roof, as it had grown weeds over the years. I could hear more crows, but they sounded far away. While up there, there were deep claw marks on the roof...
Lastly, there was the task of collecting water from a well. As I collected the water, I saw a figure walk into a crumbling, weathered cabin. I would have gone towards it, but I had a job to do.
Dinner. It was lovely: potatoes, peas, chicken. How tasty.
I asked my cousin about the building. She said it used to be a facility, which was shut down after an accident. No-one was quite sure what happened, but whatever occurred left no survivors.
I woke up in the middle of the night. There was a noise coming from outside.
Just a crow. I was just closing my eyes when a shadow passed my window. It wasn't a murder of crows, it was a person. At least, I hoped it was. It was too dark to see, but I knew that the person was different.
I couldn't get back to sleep that night. How could I have done?
I went to where I saw the person was. All I could find was a long black feather and deep scratch marks in the ground, similar to the marks on the roof.
I ate some cereal and had a rest. I could not get the person out of my head last night. I felt refreshed after my nap, but this person, the marks, the crow feather, it didn't add up.
I felt like there was something I had missed, but what?
I was sent to collect water again. As I was several feet away, I could see someone on the ground. Being showered in black feathers. Growling.
I yelled at it. It turned its head towards me. What I saw was horrific. It looked like a man, except it had bird-like features. No, crow-like features.
It looked majestic and creepy. The only human parts it had were its muscular build, forearms and voice. Patches of its skin were covered in pure-black feathers, like the one I found outside my window. It had wings, large, black wings, taloned feet with only three toes on each bird-like foot, and it's face was unnatural. It had its black beak, its blue eyes, long, sharp, crooked teeth, and long brown hair. The least human part was the face's design: it was feathery, with several bald spots. The skin was a raw shade of pink, with scars in many places, some leaving lines between rows of feathers.
I couldn't look away.I wanted to, but I couldn't. I threw a handful of stones at it, but it made him screech and fly away into the old facility. I saw what happened as I walked towards the well.
It was eating. All that was left was a skeleton with a few flecks of skin attached. And then I saw it. A collar. It was eating on a dog. It wasn't right. The thing's face wasn't right.
I would remember the face for the rest of my life.
I asked my cousin to drive me into town. I wanted to know what the crow-man thing was before going back into Murder Wood.
I asked the shopkeepers and they didn't know, I asked tourists and they wanted to take a picture of it. The rest of the people I asked thought I was crazy.
Until I went to the book shop.
The owner was a frail old man, who had a bored-looking grandson working for him. I asked the old man if he knew about it, but had no idea. I asked the grandson, and he said he knew nothing. Before I stepped out of the door, he asked me to come back to the shop tomorrow.
If he knew nothing about it, why did he want me to come back?
The crows were getting worked up again, probably about the crow-man hunting. Why did I have to suffer? Why me, of all people?
A shadow passed by the window. It was staring at me. It was a very nerve-racking moment.
It punched the wall outside. It was trying to get in! A minute after the wall was punched, I was breathing heavily.
I strained my ear, trying to hear it.
Nothing. It must have left. Maybe it wanted to smell me but didn't like my dirty clothes.
Sleep was deprived from me for a second night.
I ate some cereal and had another nap. I hoped it wouldn't become a habit. I slept dreamlessly, and then remembered: I had to go back into town and meet the grandson.
I wondered what it was about.
I went back into town. It was quiet, which was no surprise. The town was very small. The only buildings were the book shop, tourist office, bait shop and a corner shop.
Anyway, I stepped inside the book shop. I had asked the grandson what he wanted to see me about. All he did was give me a memory stick. He said it was important not to lose it.
It was unusual in design: the outside bit was made of wood. It was shaped like a feather, for some reason. It wasn't until further inspection that I found writing on one side of the feather:
What did it mean? I had to find a computer, but my cousin didn't have one.
I was still trying to find a computer. I asked my cousin if there was a computer in the town, but she had no idea. I wished there was a Starbuck's in this place!
Then it hit me: Graham, the grandson, had a laptop. If he let me on there, I would be able to find out what was in the memory stick. I asked my cousin if we could go into town, but she said she wouldn't. It was because she didn't want to waste petrol and the shops were all closed.
Great, I would be spending another night in my room, sleepless.
It was quiet. No crows were going caw! and the wind was blowing. Maybe the crows didn't like it. For once in this place would I be able to sleep.
I was very uncomfortable during my sleep. I kept telling my cousin to turn off the light, but then I noticed that the light was coming from the forest. It wasn't fire, thankfully. The light was a pale, radiating green, and coming from the facility.
Who would be in a crumbling building, apart from the stupid crow-man? Surely it wasn't that smart, was it?
Ignoring a voice in my head, I went back to sleep for the second time.
I felt refreshed. It was the first time I had a good sleep in this cabin. The first thing I did was look at the memory stick. Whoever this O.F. was, he or she must have known something about all this. I wasn't even sure if the person was living in this place!
If O.F. could help me, I needed to use a computer. Whatever was left on there could help me with this mystery. I had to get to town as soon as possible.
I made it to town. I ran towards the book shop, wanting to know what information O.F. had left behind. I opened the door, but it wouldn't budge. That's when I noticed it was closed. I was an hour early.
I spent a whole hour sitting on a bench, waiting for the shops to open. During that time, I managed to know the layout of the town. In the distance, Murder Wood was dark, shading even the white rabbits that woke up in darkness. Apart from those rabbits, the crows were going caw!. They are the most annoying animal to me.
Finally, the shops were open. I literally ran to the book shop as it opened. I asked the old man if I could see Graham. He called for his grandson and I asked him if I could use his laptop. He agreed and we went upstairs, towards the laptop.
As I opened the files, I noticed several programs downloaded on the memory stick, most of them I never heard of. The first document was containing notes on what happened with a project. The second document was encoded, so it couldn't be accessed. One file contained videos, and they were unusual. All of them were in a laboratory, with basins, a large glass cylinder and a cage. There were 16 short videos, all of them boring.
That's when the last video turned dark. It was incomplete, but most of the video was fine. A scientist was in a closet, whispering as if he didn't want to be found. In the background, there was screaming. A minute later, the man burst out of the hiding place and rushed to a computer. He put a memory stick, the same one in the laptop, into the computer and when it reached 100%, a screech filled the air. The scientist's face was contorted with fear, and a few seconds later, the video camera was thrown onto the floor on its side. Before the video ended, a dark shadow rushed at the scientist.
I asked Graham what his last name was. It was Fennlace. Graham Fennlace. Was it possible? Was O.F. Graham's father?
The crows. A facility. Scientists. Encoded documents. They must all be connected. Could the crow-man be the result of an experiment? If so, it must have been an accident.
My cousin said about the facility shutting down because of an accident that left no survivors. The crow-man must have been the cause of it. I'm certain! I should just stay awake tonight.
And I was just getting used to sleeping comfortably, too.
Yep, the crows are worked up again. That creature must be hunting again.
The crow-man should be coming here soon. I just know it will. Then a shadow passed by my window. A few seconds later, there was a scratching noise coming from the left wall. All I could do was hope it was a dog, wolf or whatever.
The wall had broken down. The creature had gotten through. It screeched and rushed towards me as I ran for my life. I was tired and confused, which made me have no idea where to go.
Then I saw it. A hatch leading to the basement. The crow-man was close, and time was limited, so I opened the hatch, shut the door, turned on the light and stayed still, in order to avoid being detected.
I am never going to get any sleep.
My cousin opened the hatch. She looked worried. She was asking what had happened, why the wall in by bedroom was broken and why she could hear a crow in my bedroom last night. I was in no mood to talk, but I told her everything.
After I had stopped, she looked from me to the bedroom. Finally, when she spoke, she said she believed me. I asked her if she had any old newspapers. If I wanted to get to the bottom of this, I needed to know what had happened and why.
I found out a lot of things to do with the crow-man. I found out that one of the project developers was Oswald Fennlace, Graham's father. They tried to create a being with bird-like abilities and features. Because Murder Wood was filled with crows, they found that it would be ideal to build a facility in the forest and use a crow as their test subject.
They spent a lot of money on it. They kept catching crows, but none of them had a specific DNA sample. Until one day, they managed to find the perfect specimen. Using blood transfusion, DNA transfers and a human willing to be used, they created a vicious warrior. It attacked several scientists at first, but then it was contained in a holding cell.
But a few days later, the guard had left for a moment and the crow-man escaped. It killed everyone in the facility, the last person being Oswald Fennlace. Once the subject had escaped the facility, it roamed around the forest, eating any animal or person to come across it.
It was a test which was to be aborted a few days before the scientists were killed. It was the Corvus Project, a mistake which should never had happened.
I needed to end this. If Oswald left a clue to killing Corvus, it must have been left to his son Graham. I mustn't be wrong. I needed to keep making the right decisions from now on.
One mistake and it would all end.
Normally, my cousin wouldn't go to town at this time, but I insisted that we should. For some reason, even though it was a ten minute drive, it felt like an hour.
When we reached the book shop, I knocked on the door. The old man complained that it was too late, but I insisted that it was important, that it had everything to do with his late son. He let us in after that.
My cousin asked if his son left anything here before he died, and he said they were all in a file on his old memory stick. Was it possible that it was the encoded file I tried to access the day before?
Again, we tried to access it, but it was still encoded. Then it hit me. It could be encoded if we try it at his old computer. Unfortunately, I didn't know where it was in the facility. For a clue, I looked at the memory stick, the lettering being shadowed. R29/F3/L2/C19.
Hold on, R29, F3, L2, C19. Room 29, Floor 3, Laboratory 2, Computer 19? Was that it?
Before I could think one last thing, the glass shattered, and Corvus came through, growling at us. Then, it said one word: 'Fennnnnnllllacccccccccce'.
We ran. We ducked under bookshelves, closed doors and climbed out of a window. But it just cast away the bookshelves without effort, smashed through doors and flew after us.
Running out of options, we ran into Murder Wood. The old man was out of breath, but we just couldn't leave him. He stumbled, and my cousin tried to save him, but in the blink of an eye, he was taken, killed and eaten, leaving only a few flecks of skin on a frail skeleton. Somehow, I had a feeling that Corvus was still hungry.
Then, just a few metres ahead, I saw the facility. Leaving no choice, we took shelter in a cupboard. It was small, but it was safe.
My ordeal was nearly over, but wasn't finished just yet.
There was a thudding noise outside, the pounding of heavy feet against the metallic floor. Corvus was close, and looking for Graham. We have to keep him safe, safe from the carnivorous, humanoid bird that was the result of the Corvus Project.
It was late, and decided to sleep, wondering if it was the last time I would sleep alive.
I opened my eyes in the darkness. At first, I had no idea where I was, buy then remembered: I was in the facility, Corvus' home, a place where no rules in everyday life exist. If I could find Oswald Fennlace's computer and decode the file, maybe the key to defeating Corvus would be shown.
One by one, we stepped outside of our temporary sanctuary. On the floor, there was a skeleton. It looked like it used to be a cat. Flies were buzzing around the rotting flecks of skin on the bones. It was disgusting, and we were all so hungry. I nearly ate a bit of the rotting meat, but sanity took control and stopped me from doing so.
Graham was the first to search for an elevator or stairs. He searched the left-wing, I searched the right-wing and my cousin searched the north-wing. Paranoia was tricking me at this time: every step I took on the steel floor made me think I was being followed. I could only think of what would happen if Corvus was behind me.
I came to a stop. In front of me were three doors, each of them displaying an event of the past. The left door was charred, as if there was a small fire a while back. The center door was fine, but what was below it was disturbing: a dried-up pool of blood had spread from inside the lab to outside. I could guess that there were several skeletons behind the door, all of them victims. The right door wasn't attached to its hinges. Instead, it lay on the floor, multiple scratch marks covering one side.
I saw what was inside the rightmost room: an operating table with a tray of surgical equipment nearby. It was possibly the same place where Corvus had been internally examined. Apart from that, I couldn't see any stairs. I opened the central door, and I was right. Several skeletons were on the floor, just piles of grubby bones. No flesh clung to the bones, but there were bite-marks on most of the bones. Again, there were no stairs. I hoped there would be stairs behind the final door. I twisted the doorknob, pushed the door..
And it was filled with scientific equipment. This didn't make any sense. Why would three doors, side-by-side, be crucially important? I now hoped Graham or my cousin had found the way up. Before I could make another wish, I turned back and went to the main entrance.
Then I heard a scream.
I ran at full speed towards the crossroads. I saw Graham already there. I asked if he found any way upstairs, but he just shook his head in disagreement. We both ran up the north-wing. I was now hoping my cousin was okay. But as we got closer, a feeling of dread was growing on us.
A fresh hole formed in the ground. If my beliefs were correct, my cousin was at the bottom of the hole. Without another thought, I jumped down into the darkness. I could already see a staircase in the darkness, but I had to do one thing at a time.
I saw my cousin instantly. She cried with happiness as she saw me. She said she sprained her ankle, and couldn't go on. I called Graham down, as it was dangerous to be alone at a time and place like this. In the darkness, Graham pointed out that he could see a sign. As we moved closer, it said: F2.
Floor 2? The computer was below us? No wonder I couldn't see any stairs up: because we were on the top floor. That was one challenge completed. Now, we just had to find a way down. But first, we really needed to rest. Above us, pounding footsteps filled the air. Corvus! We needed to hide. It was like Hide and Seek with a twist: if you're found, you end up as lunch.
My cousin crawled under a table, which was covered in cloth. Graham hid in a crate, which was, luckily, already empty. I went down a trapdoor, not knowing where it would take me. Then our "friend" Corvus came down the hole and was trying to find us. After a minute of noise, the sound of beating wings filled the air. Corvus was gone. At least, for now.
One by one, we came out of our hiding places. Then I noticed something. The trapdoor I was hiding under was the entrance to the third floor. Finally, we would end this madness once and for all!
But something felt wrong. What was it?
We climbed down the ladder into the forbidding darkness. Even though this place was shut down, I thought I could hear the buzzing of machinery. Were we going insane over this? My mind was elsewhere though, focusing on finding room 29.
25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31- Wait, what? 28, 30, 31. Where was 29? The lighting must have been bad, otherwise, we'll be dead. I just needed to recount.
25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 31B- It must be room 30. It had to be. It must. It must, it must, it must!
Graham opened the door. Sure enough, it lead into another corridor. Again, there was a crossroad. One of the passageways lead to laboratory 2, and there were only three passageways. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. We took the middle passage, seeing as it was obvious. I twisted the handle and pushed...
But it remained locked.
Why? Why? Why is it locked? Did we miss something? Then my cousin pointed out the metallic box in the wall. It had a hole in the middle that was big enough for a memory stick to fit into. Was that it? Was the way in through a memory stick?
Nevertheless, Graham pushed to memory stick into the hole. Click! My cousin pushed open the door. All we had to do now was find computer 19 and read the message.
We entered the laboratory. Several skeletons lay on the floor, most of them on the floor. Pushed against one computer was a skeleton covered in a few scraps of dirty white material.
Without another moment wasted, I pushed the memory stick into the port. Instantly, the computer buzzed into life, and the options bar came up. I opened the encoded file.
A document opened. For some unknown reason, the message started to decode itself. After two minutes of decoding, a message was formed. It read:
' By the time you read this, I will be dead. You know about the test, of this facility, of the dangers I have faced. I was a foolish man who put science before anything else.
' If I have missed your 14th birthday by the time you read this and my skeleton is undamaged, take the ring from my finger. It is my gift to you. As you may already know, I was in charge of the project.
' It should have been abandoned at the start. But I was persistent, and wanted the world of science to recognize me. Instead, I pushed on with the task, not thinking of my father, of my wife, of you.
' You are in danger. Leave Murder Wood, leave your home, go somewhere safe. The test subject has a type of hatred towards our bloodline. It will, no matter what, try to kill you. I'm sorry for all of this, I'm sorry for accepting this project, of endangering your life. What will haunt me most will be the fact that I will never see you grow up or get to know you.
' Your father,
Dr. Oswald Fennlace
I looked over to Graham. His eyes were filled with tears. He stepped towards the remains of his father and slipped off the silver ring from his finger. He placed it on his own, still crying.
That was it. No weapon to destroy Corvus, no instructions, just a letter to Graham. One thing was certain, and that was for us to leave.
As we opened the door, Corvus swiped at Graham's chest, a fresh pool of crimson forming on his t-shirt. Again, Corvus swiped at Graham, causing more blood to spill.
Suddenly, just as Corvus was about to move in for the kill, a wire, near a cardboard box, sparked. It was set alight. Corvus instantly fled, leaving us alone. The fire was spreading quickly. It was inching closer. And closer.
I rushed out, struggling to carry Graham's heavy body, wishing I worked out more. My cousin followed behind, limping. The flames were already a few inches behind us, burning the remains of Oswald, remains of his colleagues, burning everything.
As we moved towards the entrance of room 29, the fire errupted. Luckily, neither me or Graham were hurt. Unfortunately, it burnt my cousin's arm. She screamed in agony as the searing pain crawled over her arm.
By now, both of us were struggling to support our weight, but we tried for Graham's sake, for our sakes, for our survival. By now, we were finding it difficult to breathe air. Our lungs were filling with smoke. Carrying Graham with one hand and climbing the ladder with the other, we moved upwards, towards the fresh air of the second floor.
We were exhausted. My cousin was badly burnt, Graham was unconscious and I was straining my muscles.By the time I checked my watch, the fire was reaching out to us. We tried moving towards the hole in the ceiling, where we had discovered my cousin with her bad ankle.
My cousin cried out for help, hoping someone would hear us. The fire was enclosing us, and my consciousness was slipping away. Before I passed out, I saw someone looming over me.
And then there was darkness.
I couldn't remember who had saved us. I briefly opened my eyes, seeing where I was. I was outside, away from the burning facility. Sirens. I could her sirens.
As the blue light was coming closer, I felt weak, my consciousness slipping away once more...
I woke up. I was alive, and in bed. At first, I had no idea where I was. But as I felt more awake, I remember what happened, and where I was. I was in hospital.
As a doctor came up to me, I asked where my cousin was. " The one with the burns? She's in the Burns and Aputation ward. She'll be alright, but will need a lot of surgery." I asked about Graham and how he was. " Ah, well, I have some bad news about your friend. You see, he suffered from severe blood loss, and we'll have to keep him here for a while. He should be alright for now. You can see him in a few hours"
As I pondered on who had saved us, I couldn't help but notice how warm and soft the bed was, and just let myself drift into a dreamless sleep.
I went to see Graham as soon as I woke up. He was asleep, but I just sat by him, waiting for him to wake up. I thought about how his father had been selfish, putting his job before his family. Then, the window opened.
It was Corvus. Impossible. He surely must have stayed in Murder Wood. But no, I was incorrect. It was him. His rotten breath was too real to be imaginary. I tried to fight him off, but he wasn't here to hurt me. All he did was walk towards Graham. After a brief moment, I understood what Corvus was doing: he was going to put Graham out of his misery.
I threw myself onto him, trying to stop him from killing my friend. But he shook me off, like a rag-doll. Corvus put his hand over Graham's heart. He pushed into it. He dig his filthy nails in. And ended Graham's suffering.
I was speechless and terrified. Corvus moved towards the window. He looked at me in a sad and solemn way. Then, he flew off into the distance, flying in a more graceful way.
The last of the Fennlace family was gone.
Since that day, every time I look at a crow, I remember that Summer, of Corvus, of the silver ring, and of the future Graham could have lived.
I had gone back to Murder Wood every Summer, trying to avenge Graham's death, but something stops me. Maybe it was the fact that Corvus was once a human who wanted to end his misery.
But I still dislike crows.