Mark Eddy Smith's Erratic Eclectionary. Or should that be “Sporadic Selectionary”? “Fragmatic Fictionary”?
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“No one’s talking about this book yet, because no one’s read it yet. That’s one of the problems with self-publishing: There’s no one to make sure that everything happens in its proper order.” —Mark Eddy Smith, author of Children of the Air

Passage no longer appearing in this book (circa 2002):

It was raining, as it often does for funerals, and Corwynn’s feathers were sticking to her skin. She was perched atop a tall pine, and though she would have been drier lower down, being an eagle she liked to have as wide a view as possible. From where she swayed, she could see hundreds of animals gathering in the eaves of the forest, on both sides of the road. A patch of fur glimpsed between branches would tell her: raccoon, female, old and therefore clever and unlikely to be caught off guard; porcupine, not worth the pain; fisher cat, male, best clutched at the base of the neck. Most of the gathering animals were prey, though Corwynn could see a middle-aged fox and even an owl that was late for bed. There could be no more fitting tribute than this to Rilk’s life: that all these animals could assemble in peace to mark his passing.

Rilk was the dead crow lying broken beside the body of a flattened, nameless rabbit, and therein was his entire story, and the reason for the solemn assembly.

Now, it is the sacred responsibility of crows to eat carrion and thereby guard the earth against the lingering stench of death. But in his younger days, Rilk had been the most despicable of crows—one who ate roadkill with glee and loved an audience. Many a family of squirrels or rabbits watched their loved ones eaten with horrible flourishes even before they were properly dead. He would amuse himself by chasing young animals into the street. Other crows followed his lead, and soon the enmity between crows and other animals was so fierce that any creature with wings would attack a crow in flight, and those without wings would cry out to the Wind to put an end to the atrocities.

The Wind answered them with a dove.

It was many years ago now, but the story was still told in nests and burrows throughout the valley. One day, just after dawn, a mourning dove was killed by car. Its mate stood by the side of the road, as mourning doves will, and watched in silence as Rilk descended and began to feed. When he noticed the onlooker, he laughed, and with a mocking sweep of one wing invited it to join the feast.

The rose-gray dove put down its head and started across the road. Immediately a vehicle passed, driving Rilk away, and swerving only just in time to avoid the dove, who was too intent on its lover even to flinch. Now, as the simple bird cocked its head to one side, examining its mate, the crow for the first time felt a twinge of something close to shame, for the tattered feathers, the shredded tongue, and the missing eye were casualties, not of passing traffic, but of Rilk, and he watched with horror as the dove pulled a downy feather from its lover’s breast, and slowly, awfully, forced itself to eat.

After that, the poor dove could do nothing but stare at its lifelong friend, trembling with grief, but Rilk, too, was trembling, and rooted to the spot. Cars continued to pass, and the dove continued its vigil in the middle of the road. At last Rilk had stumbled forward and pushed the dove out of danger. When other crows arrived, he had driven them away, and had eaten the body himself, still shaking with sorrow and remorse, and keeping his back to the living dove, to spare it the sight.

From that day forward, Rilk ate roadkill in silence, and if friends or family of the victim were nearby, he would go and stand with them awhile, sharing their grief, and if ever he saw other crows being disrespectful, he would fly at them in a rage, even if they were many, until all showed the proper respect.

And as the crows began to show respect to others, they found that others began once more to respect them, and they were not often attacked on the wing any more.

But now Rilk was dead. In honor of that mourning dove’s courage, he had ceased to fly away from traffic, and that dignity had cost him his life. Corwynn found herself weeping, as she looked down upon his body, for her own husband had been inspired by Rilk to exhibit the same courage, and had met the same fate not a month before.

Suddenly, a flurry of wings and a great crowd of crows rose from the forest. For a moment she was confused, for she had assumed that the crows had been gathered with everyone else, but she saw now that they had not. Apparently, they had been in counsel together in the trees, and had only now agreed upon an action.

In a body the crows descended upon the road, causing all traffic to screech to a halt. One or two vehicles turned back as if in panic, and raced away, stirring Corwynn’s heart. For a long time the crows only milled about, and even she could barely see what they were doing, until finally, they rose all at once, and scattered on the winds, causing human heads to turtle out the windows of their vehicles as the crows dispersed. As for the bodies of Rilk and the rabbit, there was no longer any trace.

Lissy MacDermott, thirteen years old, pressed her face against the car window to watch the crows through the streaming rivulets.

“Lissy, get your head back in here,” scolded her mother.

Lissy settled back down in her seat, but continued to watch them thoughtfully. “What were they doing?” she said.

“I don’t know, honey. Making us late, I guess.”


“What’s weird?”

“They were all carrying stuff in their beaks. Like, feathers and stuff.”

“Weird,” agreed her mother..

In her mind she flew up to one of the crows and asked her what was going on. At first the crow wouldn’t answer, but only eyed her sideways as she flew. “Death,” it finally croaked, the long black feather in its beak squirming like a live thing. She tried to force her imagination to keep the feather straight and firm, the way it should be, but it wouldn’t stop writhing. She flew away and imagined herself an eagle soaring above the crows. She considered a moment and then decided she’d rather be an egret and admired her long, white graceful wings. She wheeled about in the sunlight for awhile, leaving the crows behind and chasing the car. Soon she was alongside the car, slaloming around telephone poles and striving to keep up with the speeding vehicle. At last her mother said something and she returned to the car, disappointed by the plumpness of her own arms. Her mother, too, seemed ungainly and misshapen, but soon even that impression faded as she focused more of her attention on the conversation and gave no more thought to the birds.

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