The first time I looked into Jimmy’s eyes, I knew he had no soul.
I was fifteen when the moving truck pulled up on that hot, sticky August afternoon. I had just woken up from a long nap and wandered sleepy-eyed into the brightness of the kitchen, where my mom was cutting up large oranges and artfully arranging the juicy slices on the scalloped-edge glass platter she usually reserved for special occasions.
“Who’s coming over?” I asked as I stole a slice.
“No one,” my mom replied. “I thought we should introduce ourselves to the new neighbors.”
My mom was a friendly person. She also traded in gossip, and relished being the first to know who, what, where, when, and why. She convinced my dad and I to jump on her welcome wagon.
We walked over and greeted Jimmy’s mother. Katherine was five feet tall and rail thin, and the way she hunched her shoulders made it look like she was caving in on herself. She offered a weak smile, her crow’s feet becoming canyons at the corners of her sad brown eyes.
“Say hello to our neighbors, Jimmy,” Katherine called out to her son, who was carrying a box from the poorly organized U-Haul. “Tom, Anna, and their son, Tommy.”
“Whatever,” replied Jimmy, stopping to cast his shadow over us. His dark eyes were like black holes, swallowing any nearby light. I felt myself being pulled into that void, and I quickly lowered my head. He turned and continued into the house.
“I apologize, he’s had a difficult time dealing with the divorce,” Katherine said, not looking at us.
My parents were sympathetic, but I had a feeling Jimmy didn’t deserve sympathy. We soon realized why his mother was always on the verge of curling into herself like some frightened bug.
The first fight was just a few days after they moved in, at about 8:00 p.m. It had been 90 degrees that day, so we opened all the windows to let in the evening breeze. Suddenly, we heard Jimmy yelling. It was the kind of profanity-laced tirade I had only heard in Quentin Tarantino films. That was followed by the crashing and shattering of things being thrown and broken, then Katherine’s pitiful sobbing.
My mother and sister had been on the verge of tears themselves. My father called the police, but Jimmy was gone by the time the cops arrived, and his mother refused to say anything.
This scene played out a few times, with either my father or another neighbor contacting the police. But Katherine never said a word, nor did she ever show any signs of physical abuse, at least not on her face. The rest of her was always covered up in long sleeves and pants.
Every time I saw Jimmy, he would refer to me as “little dick” or “fuckhead.” If he was in a bad mood, he would punch me in the gut. I would double over, struggling to breathe, my eyes watering, all while he laughed. I avoided Jimmy as much as possible, and never told my parents about the bullying. I wasn’t going to be a rat. I couldn’t exist in the shadows, scurrying from here to there, hoping not to find myself underneath Jimmy’s oversized shoe.
Animals proved easy targets for Jimmy. I suspected he killed a neighbor’s cat though I couldn’t say for sure. I can still hear the screams of the neighbor’s six-year-old upon finding the calico’s mangled body in the gutter. Everyone figured the cat had been hit by a car. But I knew better. People drove slowly and carefully through our neighborhood. And I had seen Jimmy kick that cat more than once.
We had a lot of crows in the area, and Jimmy liked to shoot at them with his pellet gun. Most people complained about the number of crows and the racket they made. But I knew they were intelligent creatures, and I respected them. A part of me even feared them. Maybe it was that creepy poem by Edgar Allen Poe I had to read in school. Or maybe because a group of crows is sometimes referred to as a murder. Regular “harbingers of death,” they are.
I would often watch the crows as they gathered in the old oak tree behind my house, scanning the area with their keen eyes and planning their daily raids of open trash cans and unguarded nests. It was one such time when I witnessed Jimmy’s harassment of the birds.
“You there fuckhead?” he called out from the other side of the fence.
“I know you’re there little dick,” he said when I didn’t respond.
“What Jimmy?” I sighed.
“Check this out.” He shot at the crows. The birds screeched and flapped their wings before scattering.
“You shouldn’t do that,” I said.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he said, mocking me. “You work for PETA fuckhead?”
I looked up at the crows. They had all returned to their perches, and seemed to be staring at Jimmy.
“Don’t be such a pussy. They’re just fucking birds. And they shit everywhere.”
I walked back into the house before Jimmy could say anything else.
After a while, I looked out the kitchen window. When I saw the coast was clear, I went out, taking a few slices of sourdough bread with me. I unlocked the back gate and went to the gnarled old tree. I threw pieces of the crusty bread on the ground. The black birds came down, one by one, picking at the bread with their sharp, pointed beaks. I watched them for a while, then turned back towards the house. As I was locking the gate, I heard the birds cawing. I looked up and saw numerous black eyes fixed on me. I stood there, silent and motionless. Then the birds took flight, gliding over Jimmy’s house and past the empty field beyond.
When I walked back into my kitchen, my sister Maggie was setting her stuff on the table. Maggie and I got along pretty well. She was smart, funny, and nice to everyone. Girls would say she was cool. Boys would say the kinds of things boys say. They wouldn’t say that stuff around me but I still heard about it. It irritated me, but what could I do? Anyway, Maggie had her boyfriend Rob to defend her honor. He was a lot bigger than me, the center for the varsity basketball team, and everyone respected him.
Jimmy had a thing for Maggie, too. Whenever he saw her, he would say things like “Hey Maggie, why are you such a stuck up bitch,” or “don’t act like fucking nun.” When I heard him say shit like that, I imagined a zombie eating his face and chomping on his vulgar tongue.
“Hey Junior. What were you doing out there,” Maggie asked as I closed the back door.
“Trying to make peace with the crows.”
“Jimmy was shooting at them with his pellet gun.”
“That guy is a psycho.”
“Yah, pretty much.”
“Good thing it’s just a pellet gun and not a shotgun. I would hate to think what could happen if that guy got his hands on a real weapon.” Maggie opened the fridge and grabbed a soda. “You want one?”
“I’m going to the party at Brian Garcia’s house tonight. You coming?” Maggie said after handing me the soda.
“Nah, you know that’s not my thing. Anyway, I’m going to the movies to watch ‘Planet X ‘ with Joe and Andy.”
“You’re such a geek.” Maggie laughed.
“Well, have fun with your boyfriends. I’ll be home late.”
I wish I had gone to the party that night. Then maybe Maggie would be here.
The next morning when my parents realized Maggie hadn’t come home, they called the police, who in turn spoke with Rob. He said they argued at the party, and Maggie decided to walk home. Brian Garcia’s house was just across a couple of crop fields from our own, and it had been relatively early in the evening when Maggie left the party. No one thought to stop her or walk with her. No one worried.
The cops found her body in one of the shallow canals that ran alongside the fields. I remember the gut-wrenching scream my mom let out when the Sheriff broke the news. I remember her falling to her knees, and my father’s trembling hands reaching out for her. And I remember the Sheriff turning away as the tears fell from my father’s eyes.
Though Rob was considered a suspect, there were too many people to serve as alibis for him. Everyone at the party had seen Maggie walk off by herself, and Rob had stayed at Brian’s the rest of the night. I didn’t think Rob could have done it, though I was angry at him for a long time for letting Maggie leave alone.
For weeks the cops questioned people and followed up on any lead they got. Still, there were no suspects. They knew everyone in town, and they had no idea who could be capable of such violence.
But I had an idea. No one else would hurt my sister. I voiced my thoughts to my parents and the police. The police questioned Jimmy, but he said he’d been home watching movies with his mother, who had been very ill. Of course she corroborated his story. And no one had seen Jimmy out that night.
I laughed at hearing Jimmy’s story. I was sure police would see through the lie, and eventually arrest him. But there was no evidence to connect him to the crime.
I had nightmares after Maggie’s death. I kept seeing Jimmy strangling her, his large hands wrapped around her neck as he turned to look at me with empty, black eyes. My parents made me see a shrink. It didn’t help. I couldn’t sleep because I kept having terrible nightmares. And I kept wishing I had gone to the party and been there to walk Maggie home.
Sometimes, I would see Maggie in my dreams. Only, it wasn’t her as I remembered her. Instead, it was some ghastly, horror film version of her. I would scream at the sight of her bruised face and bloody, torn throat as she reached for me. The sleeping pills my therapist prescribed only made the dreams worse.
Then one day, I decided to watch the crows. I never went outside anymore, but on this day, I couldn’t stand my parents looking at me like I was about to jump off a cliff. I took some bread with me and walked out the back gate to the giant tree. The crows were scattered among the branches.
I tossed bits of bread onto the ground beneath the tree. One by one, the birds came down from their perches, their silky blue-black feathers shining in the sunlight. When the last piece of bread was gone, they all flew back to their resting spots high in the tree. I headed back towards the house, turning to look at the crows as I locked the back gate. They were all staring at me. I stood frozen for a moment. Then the birds took flight, gliding low over Jimmy’s house, then circling back around. They did this two or three times.
Suddenly, the birds cawed. First it was just a few, then more, then all of them, a cacophony of screeching filling the quiet afternoon air. I ran back into the house.
That night I dreamt about Maggie. I saw her standing in the back yard. She didn’t say anything, just pointed to the tree behind our house, which was filled with crows. They cawed at me, their screeching becoming louder and more insistent. Maggie screamed in unison with them. I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating and crying. I pulled back my blanket and walked out of my room, out the kitchen door, and to the back gate. I unlocked it, threw it open and stepped towards the tree. It loomed over me like some giant monster in the darkness.
I stood there for while, looking up through the skeletal arms. I knew the crows were there though I couldn’t see them.
“What?” I whispered.”What is she trying to tell me? What are you trying to tell me?”
I heard a faint caw from one of the highest branches.
“Do you know? Do you know who did it? Was it him?”
Another bird called out.
“I must be losing my fucking mind,” I laughed.
Then one of the crows flew down and landed right in front of me. I could barely see it, but somehow, I knew it was staring at me.
“I don’t have any bread this time,” I said.
The bird cawed. Then, suddenly, it lunged at me. Before I could get my hands up, or react in any way, I felt its beak hit my head. I cried out in pain.
I became dizzy and went down to my knees. The world was spinning and my head was throbbing. I closed my eyes.
“What the fuck was that?” I said. Then I felt the blood running down the side of my face. I touched my hand to my head and when I drew it back, I could see the dark liquid on my fingers. I got up and stumbled back towards the gate. The birds screeched. I went through the open gate and slammed it shut behind me. My hands were shaking as I locked it. I started to run to the back door. That’s when I heard the flapping of countless wings. I stopped, turned around, and saw what must have been a hundred birds taking flight from the tree. Like a black storm cloud, they gathered over Jimmy’s house. They hovered there a few seconds, then one by one landed on Jimmy’s roof. When they all found a perch, they turned towards me. I stood there, my heart pounding, my hands shaking, the metallic taste of fear thick on my tongue.
After a few moments of silence, one the birds cawed. I knew it must have been the one that bit me. Then I heard a whisper behind me.
I couldn’t bring myself to turn around. I didn’t want to see her standing there. I didn’t want to see her bruised skin or bloody neck. I started shaking.
“This isn’t real,” I said aloud. “I’m dreaming.”
“No, Junior. You’re not dreaming. Please, turn around.”
I shut my eyes tight, then opened them. I did this over and over. But the birds were still there, staring at me.
“Don’t be afraid Junior. They’re not going to hurt you. They know the truth.”
“What truth?” I said, my voice cracking.
“What happened to me.”
Tears, thick and hot, streamed down my face.
“Why Maggie? Why?”
“I’m sorry for your pain Junior.”
I swallowed the bile rising up in my throat, then looked up at the crows.
“You can make it right Junior. Make him pay for what he did to me.” Her voice trembled slightly, as if she were fighting back tears.
One of the birds cawed.
Then I turned around. There she was. Only her face wasn’t marked by black and purple bruises. Her throat wasn’t torn and red. She looked like she always had, smiling and beautiful.
“Maggie,” I whispered. She smiled and held out her arms to me. I threw my arms around her. Though she felt ice cold, she felt solid. She felt real.
After a few moments, she pulled away. “Just say the words and they can make it right.” She looked up at the crows. I turned to look at them as well. When, I turned back, Maggie was gone.
“Maggie,” I called out to the darkness. “Come back.”
I stood there for a moment, staring into the night. Then I turned back towards Jimmy’s house. Once again, I looked at the crows. They returned my gaze, and it was like their beaks were digging into me, pulling out the worms writhing and twisting around my soul. I don’t know how long I stood there.
“Make it right,” I finally said. One of the birds cawed in response. Suddenly, I felt exhausted. I stumbled back into the house and threw myself onto my bed. I didn’t dream that night.
I woke up late the next day, my head aching from where the crow had pecked me. Blood had clotted in my hair, and I had dried blood on my hands and clothes. I thought of the crows as I watched the blood flow slowly down the drain when I showered.
Later that day, the cops showed up at our door. Jimmy was missing and they asked if we had seen or heard anything strange the night before. My parents said they hadn’t. I said I had taken double the dose of sleeping pills and slept like a rock.
I talked to one of my friends whose dad was a cop. He overhead his dad talking about Jimmy. When Jimmy’s mother had gone into his room that morning, she found an empty bed stained with blood, and a bloody handprint on the open window. When the cops searched the room for clues, they found a few black feathers, but nothing else out of the ordinary. After searching the house, they searched the yard. They found one of Jimmy’s eyes in a clump of grass near the back fence.
The police never found Jimmy or anything that would lead to his whereabouts. For a while, everyone in town was worried there was a serial killer on the loose. They thought maybe the same person who killed Maggie had done something to Jimmy. But not me. I was finally able to sleep.
Lisa L. Weber is a dreamer who can’t seem to get her head out of the clouds…the dark and stormy kind. She lives in San Diego with her husband and son, and a dog that makes her sneeze so loud people think she’s either dying or transforming into a banshee. She has a degree in Interior Design which serves no purpose but to decorate her wall. Her work has appeared in the San Diego Mesa Visions Magazine, and Anti-Heroin Chic.