Adam Sear

 

 

The Crowman

 

A thick haze of smoke still lay across the fields. From just a few yards away, the scavengers were all but invisible as they performed their grim, yet profitable task.
The two Englishmen worked methodically, stripping the dead of their now redundant Earthly possessions.
‘We’d better get a move on lad, storm’s coming back…’ said the elder man. ‘Bodies’ll be sinking.’
‘Bloody mud,’ said the younger. ‘Bloody rain.’
‘Now, Tom, ’twas the bloody mud and rain lost Boney the battle…’ Old Pilton laughed as he admonished the youth, and his fat, whiskery cheeks wobbled.
Tom fell back into his habitual sulky silence; he thought Pilton a coward and a fool. The old man had hidden during the battle, and crept out only when the danger had passed and there was a chance of grabbing spoils. Feeling disgust at his companion, Tom knelt to remove the boots from another fallen comrade.
There was a piercing crack, like cannon-fire, and Tom jumped to his feet.
‘Told you, boy,’ said the old-timer, ‘thunder…’
Out of the mist, a tall figure emerged. He stalked towards them on spindly legs, a frayed, dark cloak flapping around his skeletal frame like the feathers of a corvid.
‘What’s this bastard want?’ said Tom.
‘Careful, Tom,’ said Pilton. ‘Easy, now…’ He put a hand on the youth’s arm. ‘There’s dangerous sorts on a battlefield.’ He chuckled softly. ‘You could easily get yerself killed…’
Tom shook off the restraining hand, and shouted at the interloper. ‘This is our place! Get yourself another patch!’
Pilton’s eyes widened as the stranger drew closer.
‘Tom, we ‘ave to go. We ‘ave to go now, lad. ’Tis the Crowman…’ He tried to pull Tom away, but the youth seemed rooted to the spot. ‘Come, lad, come… We can’t stay here…’
The old man gave up. Knowing that he had to save himself, he dropped his loot, and scurried blindly into the fog. Whatever else he met out there would be preferable to this.
The Crowman folded his frame almost double, and, neck extended like an inquisitive bird, inspected the ruined head of the nearest corpse. Rejecting this one, he moved on to the next, then another. On finding what he wanted, he pulled a rusted iron implement from his cloak and began extracting teeth.
Tom stared as the Crowman pulled tooth after tooth, roots and all, from the lifeless skulls. The dead men stared back, as they posthumously donated their precious canines and incisors. Each came free with a crack, followed by a gruesome sucking sound, as if the deceased were trying to resist this plunder; a final act of defiance.
Although molars were too difficult to remove for most in the trade – there was no real market for them – the Crowman took the odd few for his private collection. Besides, he liked to keep his hand in, just in case. After all, fashions changed. The purloined teeth were dropped with a clatter into a large leather pouch strung around his scrawny neck.
His gruesome work complete for now, the Crowman stood and regarded Tom for the first time. ‘Thirsty work, boy,’ he said, his voice a rattling whisper. The Crowman extended a filthy hand, stained crimson with the gore of his victims. Immediately, Tom reached inside his stolen, bloodied coat, and gripped a scavenged flask of rum. His throat constricting, he handed it over. As the Crowman gulped it down, Tom tried to back away. He found that he could not.
‘Your feet are stuck, lad. Stand about gawping and you’re bound to sink in these conditions.’
The Crowman grinned. His teeth were yellow, not through decay, but because they were solid gold. The burnished metal glowed dimly, despite the lack of daylight. These were the hard-won profits of his strange occupation. Easy to carry, hard to lose; unless of course he ended up dead on a battlefield.
‘I’m sorry, mister,’ said Tom. He felt himself slide a little further into the stinking, blood-drenched mud.
Bloody mud.
’Can you help me get out?’
The Crowman drained the last of the rum from the flask, and tossed it to the ground. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘But there’s a price…’
‘What price?’ said Tom.
‘Open wide,’ said the Crowman.

 

 

Adam Sear lives in Northamptonshire. He writes short stories and creative non-fiction. He is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. His interests include: cosmology, sci-fi, history and the natural world.

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