Winnielow is a small town, if you can even call it that. I think the textbook term is a village. That’s cause we only got about 1,000 people around here. Everybody around here know each other; you was either born in Winnielow, or you wasn’t. Most folks don’t stop by to visit; it’s too far from any major tourist-like places. Don’t nobody leave — no reason to. And most of the time, nobody goes out of their way to move into Winnie. But you always get a few stragglers, like Audora.
She was obviously a city girl. Had no reason to be in the middle of nowhere, to find this town. I don’t think she found us on some Google. I think she had all her stuff packed, and I think she was running. Trying to find a town to start over in, where don’t nobody know you. That might seem like a blessing or some kind of sign from God. But that also mean you don’t know how things go. Don’t know the history, the deep history. For us growing up in this town, it goes too deep to even speak about. Maybe the stories were forgotten. Maybe we all wish they were. Either way, you can’t just come to a new town like Audora did and know what locals know, what we was taught.
For the past two weeks since she got my phone number, she been calling me and telling me about these dreams. She keeps talking about some monster, she calls it, that stands in the fields and watches her. She says it’s so real, there is times when she don’t know if she is awake or sleep still. I tell her every time to stop talking about it. I try to explain to her without saying nothing too specific, that the sooner she lets it go, it will. But she don’t. She keeps talking. At this point, she has said so much, I don’t think biting her tongue can save her now.
“So anyway, I ended up just buying the shoes, I remember my mom telling me if you keep thinking about something, it’s meant to be. You know we really should put some bird seed out for the crows at that house. They look sick.”
Audora was talking again. She was always talking. It seemed like from the moment she got here a month ago, she’d started talking and didn’t never stop. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some interest in her stories though. I always knew the world was probably bigger than how I’d knowed it to be. She made that thought real though, like how fish probably know there’s more outside of water. Then you catch them, and they really know. Problem was, Audora didn’t know when to stop talking. Maybe I was that fish, seeing the world for what it was right before something bad happened.
“They are crows, how you expect them to look, fat? They fine.”
“They are always looking at me with those beady eyes, asking me to feed them.”
“Girl, leave them things alone. They not hungry, they wild.”
“I was having weird dreams again yesterday, Candy.”
“Well girl, I done told you. The sooner you stop talking about it, the sooner it will stop.”
“What do you know, Candy? I mean, even when we walk past that house to get here. I feel like… it’s calling me. Like I should go inside and check it out.”
“Well ignore the call then! Don’t go near that house. I done told you. You haven’t gone in there… have you?”
“It’s in the middle of town… I’ve walked by it. Never gone in.”
“And you better keep it that way, Audora.”
I pulled out the chairs, starting to wipe them down so that she could sweep up the leftover food on the floor. The other waitresses were on their phones, standing in the corner near the kitchen as far away from us as they could. They didn’t like the talking Audora got into. Not that I liked it either, but I would tolerate it. That girl couldn’t help it, but even when she was whispering you could hear her a mile away, so sensitive subjects wasn’t something that stuck between us.
The only reason she got this job with me was because she talked to me so much, I think my boss thought we was friends before we was. Now we must be friends because she like a tick that I can’t get off me. Not that I want her gone so much anymore. She walk with me to work, talk to me, and she been helping me sign up for online classes to go to college. I didn’t know you could do schooling online like that. I just wish she would take a minute to listen to what I tell her instead of always trying to tell me. She might know the city way of living, but I know the practical way.
“You always say that like you know something about the dreams. Have you ever had them too? You can tell me; we are friends.”
“Hush girl and come sweep this up.”
She rolled her eyes and dragged the broom over, starting to sweep before a sly grin crossed her face.
“Well, you don’t have to listen, but I’m gonna tell you about the dream anyway because it finally changed, and I know you’re curious, ”
She wiped her face trying to think where to begin in her story as she started to sweep.
“I don’t know if I ever told you, my mom passed away when I was a kid. I probably did. I don’t like to talk about that kind of stuff, but I trust you. I probably did. Anyway, my mom was in my dream, and that’s not… unusual. I used to dream about her a lot more before I moved here… so it was a good feeling to see her again, but it was different.”
She sat down in a chair, dragging the broom slowly down. Her voice was lower than I ever heard it before.
“She was sitting in the living room looking out the window, and she told me to come sit with her. So I started to… I walked into the living room from the hall, and while I was walking, I asked her how she’d been since I’d last seen her. She said that she’d been awful. The last weeks had been hell because I couldn’t listen. I obviously stopped walking over to her, and I asked her what she meant about me not being able to listen. She said I never listened when she was alive, and I still hadn’t learned to listen now that she was dead. It just sounded like a lot of shit that made sense, but didn’t make sense in context.”
Audora cleared her throat, and I could see the tears pooling in her eyes, but I didn’t say anything. I just stared at her.
“So, I started to apologize. I told her I didn’t mean to be a bad daughter, and yes I could be stubborn and overzealous, but I was never trying to be disrespectful to her. If I could do it over again, I would in a minute, Candy. But she kept saying it was too late. I didn’t listen, and now the crows would feast. In this kind of… fork on a plate voice. She just got louder and louder.”
Audora’s eyes were wide. She looked like a deer in headlights, but she kept talking as if she was unable to stop.
“The crows will feast. The crows will feast. The crows will feast. Until she was screaming at me. Not even taking breaths, not even a moment to stop in between her chants. Then she spun around and looked at me. It was the face of… that… monster who’s been in the fields in my dreams watching me. It was him, I just knew, but he’d never been so close to speak to me.
Her eye hung out of the socket by a red stringy muscle. Her other eye was pushed back into her head until it was like mush, and her face looked like it had been stomped. She was covered in blood and pecks until you could see her cheek bones poking out, and her nose was pushed all the way up, so you could look in the nose holes if you wanted. It was like nothing was holding the skin in place. It looked like something that had died months before took my mom’s face and put it on like a mask. The monster was wearing my mom’s… decaying face.
I couldn’t move. He ran to me and grabbed my arms, looking me in my face and squeezing me so tight, I couldn’t breathe. Then he got near my ear, and the maggots squirmed off his lips and fell on my shoulder as he said The. Crows. Will. Feast.”
There was a bang on the counter across from us, and I screamed, covering my head. Audora flinched with me, and we turned around.
“Shut the fuck up!”
It was Bill. He was a trucker who was originally from Winnie. He’d always been known for having a temper. I thought she was talking quiet, but apparently I was wrong cause he was across the diner, and he was fuming.
“Bill, we’re sorry. Let me pick up your tab.” I grabbed a pitcher of water and rushed over, topping off his cup.
“It’s not you, Candy. You know how to let dead dogs lie. It’s her. She been stirring up shit since she got here.”
“Come on, Bill. She not trying to do no harm. She just don’t know no better.”
“When outsiders ever get a chance to learn better? Only the cautious ones make it. She ain’t cautious.”
“She might be. You don’t know her. I don’t neither, but ain’t nothing happened to her… so she might be.”
Bill scoffed and took a drink, staring at me. I don’t know why I was lying for her. I couldn’t even look at her as I went to the register, starting to pay for Bill’s meal.
“You know what happens when the dreams get like that… when it talks to you… she needs to go. If you don’t make her, it will. It’s up to you, Candy. What’s done is done.”
He was right. Maybe I was trapped in some fantasy with someone I’d actually got to caring about and thinking everything was gone be okay. Maybe I believed if we ran off in the night, then everything would be fine. We would be okay, and we could start over in one of them big cities she talked so much about. But we couldn’t.
“Gone and go home for the day, Audora.”
“What? I’m sorry… I wasn’t trying to… step on anyone’s toes.”
She was fumbling to grab the broom in some last ditch effort to start to sweep. She kept looking back up to me as if I was going to change my mind. Her eyes weren’t watery anymore. They just looked like she was embarrassed. The whole diner was watching us now.
I sighed and closed my eyes, looking away. Maybe you wasn’t supposed to get to know people because they always hurt you in the end. Maybe you should stay in your own lane because it’s easier to just look forward than to try to look forward and to the left and right at the same time. As long as I’d warned her, as much as I’d tried to help her, it didn’t matter. The result was always the same in the end. I knew that.
“I want you to gone and go home. I want you to get into your bed, and I want you to close your eyes, and it will be over soon.”
“Candy, this really isn’t that big of a deal…”
“Please… Go. Home.”
Audora stood beside me, trying to look me in my eyes. But I was too ashamed to look back at her, so I kept my eyes to the floor.
“Go home or I’ll call the police!”
I yelled and started to push her towards the door.
Audora stepped out of the way of me pushing her and walked over, grabbing her purse and jacket. She stared at me the whole time she walked to the door, and just like she’d appeared in the city, she was gone.
I didn’t go home when I clocked out at 6. None of the other waitresses did, neither. Even Bill stuck around and was drinking a coffee. Word must’ve gotten around about the outburst just a few hours before cause the city was full. It was quiet, but we was good at being like mice, and even though it looked dead, it was alive in the shadows. We waited.
It was around 6:45 that night when Audora walked out of her house. No one was in her way — not that they could stop her. Her eyes was clear and milky. She didn’t look around. She didn’t acknowledge anything. She walked, staring forward. I felt sick watching her, but I couldn’t look away, neither. She walked until she got to the house. The door was already open for her. She stepped inside, and it closed behind her with a thud.
Everyone must’ve seen it. Everyone saw it; they must have. But they couldn’t say nothing about it, and neither could I. The noise from the door shutting back was loud enough to snap us out of the trance of watching her.
I wouldn’t see Audora again after that. Her house would be cleared out, her parents would file a missing persons report (nothing would be done), and we would continue on in the city of Winnielow like this never happened, even though we all knew it did and would again.
The next morning, I walked to work by myself once again. As I got to that house, I looked up to the roof and saw them crows. They was watching me now, with those beady eyes. This time, they was fat.