"Mama, what's that?" I remember asking when I was younger. I was pointing to a group of crows scattered around a tree. They were pecking and flapping and strutting and cawing away, paying no attention to the cold October wind or the grey, dark sky.
"Petra, that's just a murder of crows, dear," my mother had said softly, dragging me along by one of my tiny arms.
I knew what murder was at that age, so I thought nothing of what I saw; what I observed. I didn't say anything about the figure behind the tree, sneaking up on the crows. And I didn't bat an eye at the knife glinting in their hand.
But now I'm thinking that I should have. Because it wasn't just once that I saw the murder about to happen – no, I've seen it far too many times to count these following years.
But I'm getting too far ahead, really. So I've told you the beginning, but that's really just the prologue. This is just the prologue. Life before this next day is the prologue, and now I am living the story. Or, I have lived it. Oh – let me just tell you? I wrote it all down, every detail! Here you go, turn the page, go on! You need to know this, or something terrible could happen.
How, you ask, do I know something bad will happen? Oh, please. Don't tell me you haven't ever seen a murder of crows.
West Wing of the Center Park, afternoon, gloomy to quite a dreary extent
I watched the crows again today. Before I had left mother made quite a show of me going out. I swear, that woman gets more crazy by the day! She had me put on a scarf and boots even though it's just turned to autumn!
"Where are you off to, then, Petra?" She asked as I started out the door.
"The park, to watch the crows!" As if she didn't know. I come here every day, really.
"Must you?" She asked. "Watch the crows, I mean."
"Yes, I must. I've got to see them today. And besides," I had added, "Rowan is meeting me there." So with that I skipped out the door.
Then I waited for Rowan to show up. He's such a crazy boy – always insisting on meeting me here. At least he doesn't think I'm insane for watching crows. Today he just sat there with me, watching the crows with those dark eyes of his. He never asks too many questions, either. Not like when mother came that once.
"Do you name them, Petra?" She asked.
"No, mother. Why would I?"
"Oh, I don't know. I just thought that maybe you did."
"How intelligent of you."
That was the last time she came, too.
"Petra," Rowan said, sitting down next to me.
"Rowan," I answered, nodding my head. Usually it ends at that, a simple little acknowledgement that the other exists. Nothing more. Not today.
"Why do you watch them every day, Petra?" He asked, not looking at me. Like he was nervous or something.
I turned to look at him, see if my mother was there, whispering through his ear. No, she wasn't.
"What?" I asked, pretending not to have heard him.
"Petra," he prompted. He had seen me listening. If that makes sense.
"I'm waiting. I'm watching and waiting for a murder of crows." I didn't look at him when I said it.
"Well, Petra, they're right there. A whole murder of crows. Right in front of you. Really, what is the point of watching them every day?"
"I just told you, Rowan," I said quietly. I knew this had to happen someday. But why today? Couldn't it have waited until I had figured this whole thing out?
"No. You didn't, Petra." He grabbed my wrist as I tried to get up to leave. I shook him off.
"Don't believe me then; be like the rest of them!" I shouted loudly, scaring the crows, and then I ran back home.
Home: in my room through the foyer and everywhere in between nearly, rainy outside, boring inside
I had been sitting peacefully in my room, recording the crow events; this did not last for long.
"Petra!" My mother screamed up the stairs. Must she scream? It's only a flight of stairs, for Heaven's sakes!
"What?" I said, at the top of the landing.
"There's a boy here to see you." She smiled, winking. I gagged at her and then stormed down the stairs.
And there he was. Drenched, but holding an umbrella -- which was broken. Standing on the mat just inside the door. Looking very sorry and sad. Serves him right.
"Rowan," I said icily.
"Erm, hello," he shivered out with chattering teeth. "Just came by to tell you what happened after you left."
"What, the crows flew away? You saw a nice daisy that bloomed early?"
"No," he stammered, "I saw a murder of crows."
And so I let him come in.
This was going to be my summer-long project. I started it because I hadn't written anything in about two months and I wanted to base a novel around the title instead of the other way around.
This first chapter is for my bird Oliver Barrot who sits with me while I write. It is also for my new cousin, Amanda, who we wanted to be named Petra.