The collective noun for crows is a murder. They have never understood why. Certainly they flock to the dead and yes, occasionally they have the odd nibble of the bodies, but that's not murder. No harm in eating a body that no one's using. People would only burn it, or bury it. Much better to eat it. Tastier at any rate.
It's people that murder. Take these three for instance. The man is in his middling to late forties, his hair greying and thinning. His skin is tanned and lined and there is grime under his fingernails. The checked shirt stretched over his portly middle is heavily soiled with something dark and sticky. He holds the red nailed, exquisitely manicured hand of a woman in her thirties, with glossy hair spread out behind her in a sort of crown. The scent of a strong, floral perfume still clings to her skin. Lying in her lap, the slight, blonde figure of a young girl. Her enormous eyes are closed, apparently in sleep, her pink lips parted to reveal a gap filled mouth where adult teeth will now never grow. Such different people. Yet for some reason, they all have crimson lines drawn across their throats. For some reason, they're all lying in the ditch with the cold wind nipping at their faces while the crows flock to the feast. No sense in wasting them. They're still fresh and warm, without the usual rank stench.
The carrion caw to each other quietly, as they survey the trio. The old bird from the Robinson's chimney says the kid's from a house down the road. A sweet child, he says, as he nibbles at her ear. Used to throw out crumbs for him.
The man works at the local garage, says the crow that nests on his roof, as he perches on his chest. "He's lazy," he adds. "Always asleeping, caw"
There are a whole bunch of theories about the woman. She's new in town, says one bird as she stalks around her head, her claws catching in her hair as she goes. Another ruffles her feathers importantly and says that she heard Mrs Atkin from the corner house on Russell Street say that she thinks she's a crook. There have been burglaries in the neighbourhood recently and they started when this woman arrived. A third bird clicks its beak derisively. "No no," he tells the flock scornfully. "No no. She is with a newspaper. Writes for a paper, for the newspaper." He doesn't know this, but he assumes. He's heard her asking some odd questions. That's what journalists do, isn't it?
A hubbub rises among the flock and they turn black bead eyes on the stranger. They stop eating, their beaks too full of questions, which are cawed and squeaked and screeched in abundance. Discord as to a stranger's origin is rare. Normally if you want information, you can rely on the birds.
"Newspaper?" An old crow rasps, casting an old, myopic-eyed gaze on her fingertips, "no no. No ink, no paper, see.."
"There's no ink in the newspapers now stupid," a young bird crows. "They're on the line now, caw, on those machines they're always tapping at, tap tap tap all day."
The old birds nod sagely, "true true, always tapping."
"Why's she dead, if she only works for the paper?" Asks the first bird to speak of her, skeptically. "People kill crooks and Mrs Atkin said..."
"Mrs Atkin Mrs Atkin," comes the response, "always Mrs Atkin from Cora. She talks, she talks, but she doesn't know nothing, caw, she doesn't know shit."
There is a flutter of wings and a clatter of beaks as the flock jerk their heads disapprovingly. "Language, language Beaky, caw."
Cora clicks her talons in a satisfied manner, but Beaky only squarks "tja, who cares?"
"Off with you," Cora chatters. "Go away, you're not wanted."
"No one wants you either, stupid bird, always chattering bird," Beaky crows as he turns away. He has a raucous, boastful voice. Hateful voice, Cora thinks, hateful, arrogant bird. "Stupid bird thinks lady is a crook," he continues. "Stupid bird's wrong. Lady is with the paper."
"Not stupi,d" Cora retorts.
"Quiet. Quiet birds" The flock cackles. "Stop shouting, caw. Start eating, caw."
But the request has come too late. Cora and Beaky take flight and flap above the flock in low, wide circles, thrusting out their chests and clicking their beaks and talons ominously, each bird regarding the other with a steely glint in its bead black eyes.
"I," Cora hisses, darting forward and reaching her talons out towards Beaky, "am not stupid." Her swipe misses him by a feather's-breadth.
"Yes," Beaky answers as he feints to the right, "you," he dodges to the left, "are." He dives towards her, but she flutters out of the way in a storm of dislodged feathers.
"Squabbling, squabbling" an old bird caws. "Like fledglings squabbling, come down and be sensible, come down and eat." The two younger birds pay him not the slightest attention, their argument ripping through the twittering of the smaller birds in the nearby trees like a knife through lace.
"She's a thief, idiot."
"She's a journalist, moron."
Most of the flock ignore them now. A fight is well and good, but there's good eating to be had off the woman. Who cares where she comes from? She tastes oh-so-good, even if her perfume is a little bitter. Above them, the argument continues.
"Prove she's a journalist."
"Prove she's a crook."
"Alright I will."
"You won't, because she's with the paper, caw"
There is a silence as the pair contemplate what they have agreed to. While each are perfectly certain they have the woman to rights, it occurs to them they each have very few means of disproving the other. Still, they have agreed now.
"When should I prove by?" Asks Cora. Beaky considers, how much time will he need?
"End of week, caw," he states finally. "We prove by end of week." Cora cocks her head on one side, considering, but eventually she clicks her talons in assent.
With that, the deal is done. As the rest of the flock rip and tear at the three bodies, savouring the meal before the people find it and drag it away, two lone shapes wing their way purposefully into the gathering dusk.