October Flash Contest Winner: Erin Vance!

A Half-Life

It was the landlord’s policy to do an inspection of his property every six months. He had been trying to contact his tenants for several weeks, but his phone calls, emails, and letters went unanswered. The occupants of the other apartments in the building were no help, either. They kept to themselves. One woman, in the apartment above his, a violinist, told him that she hadn’t seen the couple recently, but that she did hear a keening most nights, coming from the apartment. The landlord waited until the snow and ice melted to go to the apartment in person. His son had died after being impaled by an icicle that fell off the building’s roof- the reason he rented the apartment out, now. The landlord did not go outside in the winter months, if he could help it. It was lonely, yes, but he did not want to risk what the newspapers had dubbed “the Canadian Lobotomy.” He knocked on the apartment door. It was a ground level and had its own entrance. He shivered, standing right where his son had died. The landlord looked up at the eaves. He knocked again. No answer. The landlord began to knock harder, louder. A black shape slammed into the large window adjacent to the door. Its wings flapped against the window. The landlord could hear a low shrieking through the thin glass. He pulled out his keys. It was right on page three of the lease that no animals were allowed in the apartment. Full stop. As he turned the key and opened the door, the creature flew right into him, knocking him back with its weight. The landlord swore, lying on the ground now, watching the bird slowly ascend before landing in the elm outside the apartment building. Its wing knocked loose a lingering icicle, thin and ragged in the March sun. The bird continued to shriek, “Help! Help! Help! Help!” The crow’s feathers were mottled, unkempt. They did not resemble the oil-slick feathers of the birds he was used to seeing. The landlord stood up. Even from outside the apartment smelled of bird shit and metal. And a bit like a bottle depot. An awful hissing came from the kitchen. One of the radiators was covered in the animals’ excrement, which had eaten through the metal plating. Steam hissed, rising from the holes. Water spurted onto the floor. The landlord rushed over, closing the valve. “Hello?” He yelled into the apartment, “Is anyone here?” There was silence. And then a wailing came from the bedroom. It sounded like a woman sobbing. He walked across the apartment. All of the blinds were drawn. The landlord fumbled for the kitchen light switch. On the wall, where there had once been a pantry, hung eleven rabbits, skinned and rotting, their flesh sloughing off onto the hardwood. The landlord gagged and stumbled towards the bedroom. The door was ajar, but only just. Inside the landlord expected to find Mrs. Crawford, one of his tenants, emitting the high-pitched wailing. Instead there was only a crow, tucked neatly into the bed as if ready to go to sleep. The lamp on the bedside table was on. The crow wailed, burying its head into the pillows. The landlord stood in the doorway, unsure what to do next. He heard a something behind him, something rummaging around the den. He turned from the keening bird in the bed and closed the bedroom door. A crow stood on the couch in the small den. It thrust its beak at the television remote. The flat screen sprung to life. The landlord walked slowly into the den. The crow looked at him. The landlord felt like a child being silently berated by his schoolteacher. And that was the first time the crow spoke. “You don’t know your ass from your elbow, Mr. Linden. This place is a shit hole. I’m sure you see why we haven’t answered your calls. This shithole’s cursed or something.” After that, there was no keeping it quiet. The landlord was taken aback by the words, more so by the fact they were coming from a bird who was watching The Trailer Park Boys. Not knowing what else to do, he moved closer to the crow, “go grab a beer and I’ll explain.” In the fridge, the landlord found cases of cheap beer. He brought two cans into the den. “You fool, put it into a dish.” The landlord and the crow drank their beers, the other crow still crying in the bedroom. “She hasn’t adjusted as well as I have. She misses her mother.”