As the Crow Flies – Free Ebook by Nancy B. Brewer



As the Crow Flies- by Nancy B. Brewer  

Some called her the Moss Creek Witch and others called her the Moss Creek Medicine Woman.

Pa warned Roy about going down to that shack where the girl lived. Ma said it was just old mountain superstitions. But what happened to Roy?

Nancy B. Brewer

Copyright 10/2020

As the Crow Flies

            It was the summer of my eighth year of life when it happened.  I recall painfully telling my folks what I had seen that day.  Pa’s face went pasty white, but Ma’s face flamed red and she told Pa to give me a beating for lying.

            He carried me to the woodshed, but he did not lay a hand on me.  His eyes were watery and in a voice unlike his own, he made me swear to not mention what I had seen again, especially to my mother.

            With time my parents finally gave up looking for Roy.  There was talk that maybe he was attacked by a bear, or had fallen off a cliff on his hike home from work.  I knew the truth and for twenty years I have kept my promise to Pa and have never told a soul.

            I think Pa may have believed my story.  He was fearful of those sorts of things.  Pa had warned Roy about going down to that shack where the girl lived.  Ma on the other hand, said she did not believe in old mountain superstitions, and she was not going to raise her boys to believe in such nonsense.  She held fast to believing that Roy had run off to leave behind the old backward mountain ways.

            Roy was my only brother and my only sibling.  There were nine years between us.  Growing up I thought it odd that it was just the two of us, since most folks had large families.  Looking back I realize Ma was never healthy and she had a rattling in her chest as long as I could remember.

            The winter after Roy was gone was a hard one.  We were a family that lived paycheck to paycheck.  Pa was laid up with his back for the whole of November.  Since we had lost Roy’s salary we had nothing to fall back on.  Even though it was against Pa’s wishes Ma took a job working in the restaurant at the motor lodge.       Everyday she hiked down the mountain and back after her shift.  Most nights she carried home a bag of greatly appreciated leftovers.

            Then January came another blow, Ma got sick.  Even though Pa could not pay the doctor—he came.  He said she had pneumonia, gave her some medicine, shook Pa’s hand and left saying he could do nothing more.

            The next day I was sitting by Ma’s bedside when a large crow lit on the windowpane and begun pecking at the glass.  I opened the window and the bird flew in and perched at the foot of Ma’s bed.

            Ma’s eyes fixed upon the bird and it was at that moment I will always think she had come to believe my story.  Since Ma’s sickness we had no communication or visitors.  Yet, that afternoon there was a knock at the door.  It was the girl Cloe, saying she knew Ma was sick.  She did not wait for Pa to invite her in; she pushed through the door, and made her way to Ma’s bedroom.

            Until then I had only seen her from a distance.  Her complexion was as soft as a new born baby and her eyes as blue as the sky.  Flowing from her head cascading over her slender shoulders were the palest of blonde tresses.

            I watched breathlessly as she leaned over the bed and opened her basket.  She briefly explained she was on a mission to deliver a potion her mother had prepared especially for Ma.  Then without asking for permission she raised Ma’s head and poured the little bottle of liquid down her throat.

            Once the deed was done, Cloe stroked Ma’s face and gave her a kind smile. When she left the room the crow flew out the window.

            I ran to the window to watch her hurrying down the path and that crow was flying behind her.

            The next morning Ma had recovered and in fact the old rattling in her chest was also gone and never returned.

            Although Cloe walked past our house daily, she never came to visit again.  Flying overhead or perched on her shoulder always was the crow.

            When I turned eighteen I joined the army and I had not been back until that day.

            Six years off that mountain had changed me.  I left a boy and now I was returning a man and I thought like a man. Still the happenings of that summer rolled through my mind in slow motion as the greyhound bus approached my boyhood home.

            Now that Ma and Pa were gone that mountain held nothing for me.  I wanted to know if what I saw happen to Roy was fantasy or reality.

            My only mission was to find the girl named Cloe.  I had seen action in Vietnam and I was no coward, but as eager as I was to discover the truth I was just as afraid of the truth.

            I closed my eyes and laid my head back on the headrest.  After all these years I could still see her face.  Perhaps she had enchanted me like she had my brother?

            Some people called her mother the Moss Creek Witch.  Some called her the Moss Creek Medicine Woman.   The woman and the girl lived in an old shack down by the creek.  As far as I know their only means of support was from those that braved to seek the woman’s council or potions.  Where they came from or who they were, no one knew.

            The summer Roy disappeared I owned both innocence’s and youth.  I knew nothing of the facts-of-life.  It was just an exciting game to spy on my brother when he met up with the witch’s daughter.  So when I saw him going in that direction I would sneak behind him.

            She would be waiting for him under a large weeping willow tree by the deep end of the creek.  Sometimes they would strip naked and swim in the creek first, but to my curiosity they always ended up rolled up in a blanket under the tree.

            On occasions they would fall asleep, it was on one of those occasions that I witnessed the figure of a woman emerging from the creek.  Soon she was hovering over the two as they slept.  I started to cry out to my brother, but the woman awoke them with a screeching scream.  The girl jumped to her feet and threw her body over Roy.  “No Mother! No Mother!” she cried.

            The woman tossed her aside and then directed all her attention toward Roy.  She began to chat foreign and strange words and the girl again attempted to distract her mother. This time the woman’s glazed eyes soften as she looked at her daughter.

            “As the crow flies, so does fluttering hearts, flesh to feathers, I command it to be!” she said as she waved her arms in the air.

            I was so frightened that I jumped to my feet and hit my head on a low hanging branch.  When I came to my senses, Roy had disappeared and sitting on the blanket next to Cloe was a big black crow.

             The woman was hissing like a snake as she disappeared into the misty creek.

            The girl clutched the bird to her breast and cried.  After some time she tucked it under her arm and started into the woods.  I followed her until I lost her in the shadows.  That was the story I had told my folks.  We never saw Roy again, or at least in the flesh, as we knew him.

            Someone bought the land where the shack stood and Cloe and her Mother disappeared.  If she still existed I vowed to find her.

            When the bus came to a stop I did not know where we were, until the driver called out: “Blue Meadow Gorge.”

            People started to get off the bus, but I sat frozen in disbelief.   There were new hotels, restaurants and shops and the streets were filled with tourist.  Then in the distance I saw a familiar sign: Archie’s Service Station.

            I gathered up my bags, stepped off the bus, and slowly started walking down the street.  I had not been eager to return, but the fresh mountain air and the sound of the bright colored leaves crunching under my feet brought pleasure to my heart.

            I had made reservations in the motor lodge where my mother used to work.  I had no trouble finding it; the place had not changed much.  I walked up to the desk and told the girl my name.  She looked up and smiled.  “Tom?” she asked.

            “Yes,” I replied, realizing that there was something familiar about her.

            “You don’t know me, do you?” she asked tossing her head back and laughing.  “I’m Angie—Angie Jones.”

            “Wow, you sure have …,” I said, looking at the redheaded beauty.

            “Changed?” she asked, with her hands on her hips.  “Well I reckon so.  How long has it been five—six years?  I was pretty awkward back then.  Now I am twenty-six and I have been to college, too.  I am a schoolteacher, but I help out my grandparents when I can at the lodge, especially during the tourist season.

            “Wow,” I found myself saying again.  Wow, not only to her transformation, but also to the fact that the town actually had tourist.

            “Your room has a bathroom,” she said smiling.

            “Thanks,” I said, as she passed the keys slowly into my hand.

            I certainly remembered a skinny little Angie, she was the preacher’s daughter.  When Pastor Jones asked if I would escort Angie to the prom, I was going to say NO, but my mother intercepted and said YES.  There was no battling with Ma, and I was going to take Angie to the prom.  As it turned out Angie came down with the flu, and I thought I had won.  Now, maybe I was the loser.

            I stepped into the old rickety elevator wondering if it would make it to the third floor.  In my mind I was pondering if Angie was married.  “Stop!” I said aloud to myself.  I was there for one reason only.  As soon as I found out what I was looking for, my plans were to head out to LA—the land of movie stars and sports cars.  I was going to meet up with my Army buddy who had promised me a job.

            After I unpacked and freshened up, I headed out on my mission.  As I passed by the lobby, I could not help but side-glance to see if Angie was still there.  I felt a tinge of disappointment seeing her chair was empty.

            Hoping to gain a lead, I stopped at the hardware store, the bank, the post office and even Ellen’s café, but the faces were all new.  No one remembered me and certainly not my brother Roy.

            Exhausted and feeling I might be on a wild goose chase, I stopped at Archie’s Service Station to get a cold drink and a pack of nabs.   I sat down on the old red bench and popped the cap.

            Back in high school I pumped gas for Archie.  In-between customers this was my perch.  Sometimes I would even light up a cigarette if Archie offered me one.

            I took a big swig of the RC Cola and closed my eyes.  I heard a voice call my name.  “Tom! There is a customer waiting for you to check their oil!”

            I jumped and saw Archie standing behind me.  “Boy, just how the heck are you?” he asked, giving me a hard slap on the back causing cola to spew from my mouth and up my nose.

            I recovered quickly and said, “Pretty good!  How about you?”

            “Oh, not bad for a worn out old man,” he said, sitting down beside me.  He reached in his shirt pocket for his cigarettes, and offered me one.

            “No thank you.  I gave that up in the Army,” I replied.

            “How was the Army?  Did you get into some fighting?  Kill anybody?” He asked looking intensely into my eyes.

            I hoped my reply would end that subject, “I am darn glad to be back in the good old US of A.  No way was I signing back up for another tour.”

            “So you come home, have you?  I’ll give you your old job back, in fact you can run this joint for me.  My boy ain’t got no interest in service station work.   He went to school to be a beautician.  Fixin’ ladies hair—that’s what he does now.  I tell you, this world is a changing.”

             “Oh, that ain’t so bad.  I bet he makes a lot of money, too,” I answered.

            “Speaking of change,” Archie said, as he took off his cap and smoothing down his sparse hair.  What do you think of this here old town?  It is now a tourist attraction.  Who’d ever thought it—not me?   I tell you right now, if I was a younger man, I could turn this station into a real money maker.”

            “Things are changing quickly now a days everywhere,” I replied.

            “I bet so,” Archie said, as he leaned in closer to me.  “Did you have to kill anybody when you was over there?” he whispered.

            I did not answer and after a few seconds he just nodded his head.  “Sure do miss your Ma and Pa.  Lot of the old folks have passed and most of the kids have moved on,” he said.

            That was my cue to ask, “Say Archie, do you remember that old woman and her daughter who lived down by Moss Creek?”

            “If you are talking about the witch and that banshee daughter of hers, I sure do,” he said raising his voice a bit.

            “What happened to them?” I asked.

            “You don’t want to go poking around the likes of them,” he said.  “No good can come of it.”

            “Archie, Do you know where they are?” I asked again.

            “Yep,” he said.  “I hear that girl runs a bakery down in Smithville, but I sure don’t want to eat nothing she’s cooked up.”

            “Is her mother living?”  I asked.

            “Don’t know the answer to that, the less I know about them sort of people the better off I am,” Archie said.

            “Why are you asking about them?  You know what happened…,” He said stopping in mid-sentence and putting his old cap back on his head.

            “I aim to find out,” I replied.  When I left I promised to see him again before I left town.

            Even though Smithville was only about a thirty-minute drive, I had no car.  I went straight to the bus station where I learned the last bus to Smithville was just about to leave.  I was hot on the trail and waiting another day was not an option.

            In a dead run I took off for the bus.  I arrived out of breath and soon was disappointed to find there were no seats.  Now I was forced to stand in the aisle and hold onto the overhead strap.  It was a bumpy ride down the mountain and several times I stepped on a few toes and once fell into the lap of an unhappy heavy-set woman.

            My legs were a bit wobbly when I stepped off the bus in Smithville, so I sat down on the first bench.  I dropped my head in my hands to rest before going on.

            I suppose that is what caught the attention of the police officer near by. “Sir, are you all right?” he asked carefully approaching me.

            I stood up at once, still a little uneasy on my feet.  “Yes sir!” I said giving him a salute.

            “Army boy, have you been drinking?” he asked.

            “No Sir, just got into town—long ride,” I explained.  “I sure could use a sweet roll and a cup of coffee.  Do you know where there is a bakery?” I asked.

            He looked at me with still a bit of suspicion. “Cloe’s on 2nd street,” He replied, pointing his billy stick in the direction.

            “Thank you,” I said, trying my best to walk steady.  My adrenaline was pumping and my heart was racing when I reached the bakery.

            For nearly twenty years I had pondered what I would say to her if I ever saw her again.  Through the foggy windows and lace curtains I could see a figure behind the counter.  I thought I was prepared, but nothing would have prepared me for what I saw next.

            “May I help you?” came the voice of a young man.

            I could not speak and I froze as stiff as a dead man.  For the second time since I arrived in Smithville I heard the words: “Sir are you all right?”

            “Roy,” I whispered, as the room begun to spin and my legs gave way.

            The next thing I remembered was being flat on my back on the floor, and seeing the fuzzy image of woman leaning over me.  Like a voice in a drum she called out, “David get a cold cloth for his head.  He must have fainted.”

            I sat up and tried to rise, but she held me down.  “Wait until you are steady,” she said.

            When my head and my eyes had cleared I knew the woman was Cloe.  Slowly I gained my stance.  I was pretty much hysterical when I started talking. “I’m Tom—Roy’s brother.  What has happened—how can this be?  What did you people do to him?  I asked.

            I had not planned to spill my whole story at once, but I had not planned to walk in and see my brother the same as he was the last time I saw him.

            “Tom, calm down,” she said, turning briefly to look at the young man.  “I can explain, but first you need to sit down and collect yourself.”

            I accepted her invitation and sat down at one of the tables.  She turned and returned with a cup of coffee.   I did not know if it would bewitch me, but I needed it and started to drink.  She sat down in front of me.  She was older, but still beautiful.

            “The young man you see is my son—Roy’s son,” she said, softly.

            “How?” I asked.

            She laughed, “Surely you know how that happened?”

            I now realized that she was clever and I needed to choose my words carefully.  “Of course I know how that could have happened.  But what I don’t know is what happened to my brother.”

            She hesitated for a moment and then in a high-pitched voice she said, “He is around here somewhere.” Then she called out, “David where is your father?”

             The son came back into the room.  “Mother I think he went to the woods hunting?”

            “Roy is alive?” I asked feeling confused but overjoyed.”

            “Of course,” Cloe responded.

            “I—I was hiding in the woods the day he disappeared.  I—I saw what your mother did!  She put some sort of spell on my brother and he disappeared.  If he is alive I want to see him now!” I demanded.

            “How long do you plan to be in town?” she asked sweetly.  “I have no idea how long Roy will be.  Sometimes he is out hunting for days.  I think he prefers the outdoors more than the indoors,” she said trying to laugh.

            “As for my mother,” she continued. “She is from the old country and she has different ways.   Up on Blue Meadow Gorge some people loved her, but others spread hateful and vicious rumors about us.  When I found out I was with child, we moved here and opened up the bakery.  Your brother came with us.”

            “Is your mother living?” I asked.

            “Yes, but she is old and very ill,” she answered.  “I will be happy to ask her if she has any knowledge of your boyish story, but she is likely to have no recollection.”

            “It was hardly a boyish story and you know what I am talking about!  I saw it—I saw it all!”  I replied defensively.

            “Tom can you come back next week?” she said standing to her feet.  “I must go to care for my mother now.  When Mother dies, and it will be soon, all she holds onto will be set free.  I hope Tom will be back soon and you will be reunited.”

            Cloe turned her back to me and walked swiftly out the front door.  The young man sat down a piece of cake in front of me.  “Would you like more coffee?” he asked.

            “No thank you,” I replied, standing to my feet.  “You tell your mother I will be back Monday morning and I will expect her to have some answers for me.”

            “I will tell her,” he said, as I exited the shop.

            I was now beginning to doubt my own story. Was it that simple?  She got pregnant, they moved to Smithville, and Roy went with them.  Still, I knew what I had seen and it was not natural.

            When I had caught the bus earlier, I gave no consideration to how I would get back to the motor lodge.  The bus would not be running until the next morning and I could not afford the taxi fair to Blue Meadow Gorge.

            I spied a phone booth across the street and called the Y.M.C.A. and asked for direction.  Now added to my state of mind and exhaustion was a two-mile walk ahead of me.  Oddly enough a crow flew over me as I made my way to the center.

            The next morning I caught the bus back to Blue Meadow Gorge.  I went straight to the motor lodge, showered and then went to the restaurant for breakfast.

I had only planned to stay a few days, but now I knew I would have to stay at least a week.

            I found Angie at the front desk and made arrangements to extend my stay.

            “So you will be here over the weekend?” she asked.  “Will you be coming to church?  I am sure my parents would love to see you.”

            “Is your father still the pastor?”

            “No, my brother took over a few years ago,” she said smiling.  “I still live at home, but I stay at the lodge mostly, especially during the winter school months.”

            That answered a question I had run through my mind Angie must not be married.  She invited me to Sunday lunch and I told her I would think about it.

             I had a lot on my mind and socializing was not one of them, but as the week went on I found myself more interested in Angie. She even joined me for breakfast a couple of mornings and by Friday I had asked her to have dinner with me down the street.

            She caught me off guard with her responses, “Are you asking me for a date?”

            “What if I say yes or no?” I asked, trying to tease her a bit.

            She laughed, “I would accept either way, but I just like to know what the odds were.”

            Angie turned out to be a nice distraction, but once I was alone in my room my thoughts returned to Cloe, her son and the anticipation of what might happen Monday.  Would I see Roy after all these years?  I had time to think about it.  It was hard to believe he would just walk out on us and leave Ma and Pa to grieve.  I had to have answers.

            Sunday I did go to church and to Angie’s house for lunch.  It was the first time in many years I had been in a home with a real family.

            When Angie drove me back to the motor lodge she asked if we ever found out what happened to Roy.  I wanted to tell her the story, but I was afraid of what she might think.  In fact, I realized I was starting to care what Angie thought about everything.

            Monday morning I did not go down for breakfast.  I waited until I was sure Angie had left to go to work before I went downstairs.

            I knew the bus to Smithville left at 9:15, which would give me just enough time to grab a donut and a cup of coffee at Archie’s and make it to the station.

            I was making my way across the lobby, when I saw Angie attempting to enter the building.  In each hand she carried a suitcase and a bag across her shoulder.  She had seen me, and now I was obligated to hold the door for her.

            “What’s all this?” I asked.

            “Teacher work day and moving in for the winter,” she answered nearly out of breath.

            “I see.  Do you have more bags?” I asked, knowing offering to help was the only gentlemanly thing to do.

            “No, this is it for now,” she said.

            I helped her load her bags on a cart and then told her I had to hurry off to meet a friend.  She looked a little puzzled as I rushed out the door.

            Seeing Angie had cost me a cup of coffee and a donut.   I rushed to catch the bus and again it was full and I was forced to stand in the aisle.

            This time I was steady as I walked down the street to Cloe’s bakery.  I supposed nothing could be more shocking than my first visit.

            When I walked in Cloe’s son was busy waiting on a customer.  I quietly sat down at a table by the window to wait.  It was misting rain and a chill run down my spine.  I looked out the window and perched on the ledge was the now familiar crow.  The bird turned its head from side to side as if studying me.

            I tapped on the window and it flew off to a nearby tree and lit on a branch.  I was so enthralled by the bird that I had not noticed the customer had left.

             The front door flew open and Cloe rushed in.  She glanced quickly around the room, but did not see me.  “She cannot hold on much longer,” she said to her son.  “She has no power over death.  We shall see your father soon,” she said, patting the boy on the shoulder.

            When she turned she was surprised to see me.  “Tom—forgive me but Roy has not returned.  We are hopeful he will be home very soon.”

            I walked over to where she stood.  I could now tell she was tired and appeared to be without sleep.  “It has been a week and he is still hunting in the woods?” I questioned.  “Is this not odd?”

            “Uh, well to some,” she said, “But for Roy, it is just normal. Like I said, we are waiting for him to appear anytime now.”

            “Then I will wait, too,” I said firmly.

            “I appreciate your need to see your brother, but now is not a good time,” she said nervously.  “I told you that my mother is very near death.  I must get back to her as soon as possible.  You will understand that we need to be alone at this time.”

            “I will not be in the way, after all we are family,” I said, looking at the young man.  “I will just have a seat in the back.  I have been waiting all these years and a few more hours is nothing.”

            She twisted her hands in a ball and took a deep breath. “David your father will need some fresh clothes when he comes back.  He has been in the woods for a long time.” She then took some money out of the register and handed it to her son.  “Hurry, run down the street and buy him a few things.”

            The boy took the money and started for the door, but then he paused. “What size should I get?” he asked.

            Cloe looked uneasy. “David you know you are your father’s size,” she answered quickly.  “Now go and hurry back.”

            Before more could be said, a woman walked in to order a birthday cake and Cloe was forced to wait on her.  I went back to the table by the window and surveyed the view.  The crow was still there, but was now pacing on the sidewalk in front of the shop.

            For the next hour there was a steady number of people in and out of the shop.  It was almost noon when David came back.  Cloe took the package he delivered and she escaped out the backdoor.  Soon I saw her hurrying down the street with the crow flying behind her.

            It begun pouring rain and the old building grew colder.  I was hungry and stiff from sitting.  The shop was now empty and the boy was seated behind the counter reading a book.  He had made no attempt to speak to me since his mother had left.

            I rose from my seat and asked him for the bathroom.  He pointed to a door down to the hall.  When I returned he informed me they served vegetable soup on Monday’s.

            I ordered a bowl and returned to my table.  Shortly he delivered my order and sat another bowl down for himself.

            “How old were you when you last saw my father,” he asked.

            “Eight,” I answered.

            “What did he look like?” he asked.  “I mean back then?”

            “Just like you,” I replied.

            The boy looked out the window.  “I hope we will see him soon,” he said sorrowfully.  “Mom says we will.”

            The boy looked troubled and I had to ask. “How long has it been, since you have seen your father?”

            “I see him nearly everyday, but it is not like …,” then he stopped and picked up his bowl.

            “Wait, I know what happened,” I called out.  “Your grandmother cursed my brother—your father—and I saw it all happen.  Admit it—you know it is true.”

            The boy turned back around and his eyes were filled with tears. “Curses have no power over death,” he said.  Then in a calm voice he asked if I would like another bowl of soup.

            When I said no, he returned to his seat and opened his book again.  Another hour passed and the rain stopped.  Soon the sun was shining as if it were a spring day.

            Suddenly Cloe entered from the back room. Her face was bright with excitement.  David jumped to his feet and followed her.  I could hear voices and what sounded like crying.  I thought I understood what was happening and I remained seated.  Something told me I was to see my brother soon.

            Cloe was the first to come back up front.  “Tom,” she called out.  “Roy is home!  He is anxious to see you, but he wishes to visit with David a little longer.”

            “Has your mother passed?” I asked.

            “Yes,” she answered.

            “And the curse is broken?” I questioned.

            “With my mother’s death we are set free from the rumors of Blue Meadow Gorge,” was her only reply.

            I visited with my brother that day.  He was not quiet the same, he had aged, but I would have known him anywhere.  He asked about Ma and Pa and I told him how much we all had missed him when he disappeared.  He cried, we both cried.

            His eyes told me how much he had suffered.  Someday we might speak of his disappearance, but that was not the day.   When the time came for me to leave, he asked if I would be staying in Blue Meadow Gorge.

            “Yes brother I think I will be staying for awhile,” I replied, giving him a warm embrace.

            This time there was a seat for me on the bus.  Things seemed different as if a great darkness had been lifted from my soul.  Most of all I was eager to see a pretty girl at the motor lodge.