The Croak—Ellen Forkin

I soar as the world turns to winter. The heather is purpling, like swathes of velvet upon the green, grass-tufted land. The thistledown’s catch the wind, the docks and cow parsley have turned to rust. The bogs are dark, muddied, treacherous. The harvest fields, golden, gleaming, rippling a whispering wave of barley. I pecked the fields when they were sown, stabbed my dagger beak into the sweet earth. I strut among them still, catching glimpses of mice, voles, a hare, its startled eye as brown as a hazelnut. I am safe amongst the whispering ocean. 

It was not always so.

I was human, a dozen lifetimes ago. A little uncanny. Braided hair and haunting songs, sharp eyes and quick fingers. Unmarried, untethered. Some said unsafe. Hag, crone, witch. Names thrown like stones, hard and sharp, through spitting teeth. Men with books, accusations – then neighbours, villagers, townies, friends. Yes, she knows her poisons. Yes, the Devil knows her name. 

I crouched amongst the barley, barefoot and fingers trembling. I crouched until I took flight. 

I soar. The sky and sea are two mirrors of grey. I fly alone, skimming the islands’ edges with their speckled sand, their dark tresses of seaweed, the tang of it carrying on the salted wind. I wheel down, stretched feathers warm in the amber sunlight, and flap gently, lower and lower. My leathery feet alight on a moss-furred fencepost. I cling to it, needle claws scratching the weathered wood. There are perhaps fifty like me, black and sharp-beaked and beetle-eyed. Each on their own fencepost, we sit, we gather, we know. We croak over the murmur of barley, grass, heather. We talk of juicy bugs, earthy grains, the warmest roosts and wildest winds. We reminisce about nimble fingers, breath-catching dances, soft, cooked meat. We caw and croak and sing until the full moon sits heavily in the sky. Then we fly home, as quietly as we came, soaring under a night of pinprick stars.

Ellen Forkin is a chronically ill writer living in windswept Orkney with her semi-wild rook. You can find her work and upcoming publications in The Haar, The Alternative Stories Podcast, Northwords Now and New Writing Scotland

photo by Mark Timberlake (via unsplash)