“Rats and Crows” [short story] Owl Canyon Press Contest Entry

Authors note: The piece was created for the Owl Canyon Press Contest. In the contest it was given to create a work of 50 paragraphs, with 1st and 20th paragraph provided by the Owl Canyon. The work below is my written contest entry.

Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

Rat and Crow stood in the rain, observing this scene frozen in time. They’ve been doing their research for a long while, to finally be able to come across this place. Not like it was hidden, not it was too easy to find. Rat held his umbrella over his and Crows head. They both were examining the leftovers of the incident, the prayers and the imaginary sacrifices for the ones who perished at the hands of quite insatiable new system. 


“I’ve heard that somewhere in the slums they’re having few ballsy youngsters trying to make way up. Not like it’s much now. But they might cause trouble in near time. All that due to the deaths of the shard here. Many fled to the slums. It’s the cold war in the region all over again.” – Rat spoke in tired tone. He did not really wish to go into this endless pit of fallen to investigate the causes and new troublemakers. He wanted to be home. With his girlfriend, watching some random movies, having warm food, but the situation called otherwise.


“They’re just trying to come up with new ways of fighting against Estenda Party.” – Crow shrugged, – “Not like we all enjoy that ruling of the higher ups.” Crow was the cold counterpart. The silent doer of required work, the person who’d kill with no questions asked, the one to never neglect duties and orders from Shadow Family. He’s the property of the family. The trained soldier, the loyal dog. Fearless, calm, good looking, the kind you find as a mercenary for hire.


Rat let out a deep loud sigh. Crow turned around and walked back to the car. Rat had another look over the shrine, then turned on his heels and followed Crow. Cold of the autumn with endless grey of the sky and pitter-patter of rain that does not cease to stop. “Oh, the fantastic work, might we all Rejoice.” – Rat let out sarcastically, as he got into car.


The alley of houses under the bridge, motorway over the heads of people, the buzz of cars makes endless sound of buzzing that continues night and day. No longer can those who live under the bridge, enjoy the pleasures of driving their vehicle on this bridge – “NO SOUTH CITIZENS” states the entrance to it, with checkpoint of officers stopping every car to see the drivers ID. The moment you’re discovered – you’re sent back. Fight back – you’ll get shot in the head.


“Trisha!” – called out her mother, – “Trisha!” – it came out more angrily this time. “Ah, yes! Coming!” – Trisha turned around to get inside the house, still holding the groceries from the shop. “Stop daydreaming. No way in hell you’ll find a man if you keep on like this.” – Mom was nagging daughter. Trisha just rolled eyes.


“We have your brother coming in today for dinner. Better be nice and ask him to bring some friends over. Can’t have you keep being the old virgin mary. You’re no longer young as well, being in your thirties.” – Old lady paced around the kitchen, as she got the needed ingredients for making dinner. – “You know how hard it is to give birth after thirty? I think no. But you should be aware that you’re body ain’t any younger than yesterday.”


Trisha just sighed as she shook her head. There was no way at stopping mother with her endless nagging about the need to marry and have kids, if she began the topic. In case of trying to stop the conversation – the anger storm of nag would increase tenfold. Nobody wanted that.


“Hey, could you drop me off at my family house?” – Rat asked Crow, who sat in the driver’s seat, making sure to get to the office first. “My mum gave me no choice. Saying she’ll kill my ass, if I dare not to show up. She’s no joke.” – Rat checked his wallet and phone in the pockets.


“After the office. Sure.” – Crow spoke in his typical emotionless manner. Not like there was much to it anyway. His mind was someplace else. Rat turned to look at Crow for a moment. Even though they’ve been assigned together for more than five months – Rat still could not get what that cold bastard thought about.


Once Rat was dropped off at his family’s house and some shouts of his mother came from inside, with younger sister trying to keep the madness in check, Crow checked his phone and drove off. There was something in need to be taken care of. “Quite the loud bunch.” – Crow thought to himself as he pushed gas pedal.


Door opened by a maid, no words spoken, just a small bow with a gesture of hand to show where to next. Crow walked behind this petite creature. It was a custom of Shadow Family to keep their maids good looking, petite and trained to boot to kill. It was just that kind of secret keeper of the world behind the scenes – it was not even mafia, not it would be something easily understood. It was different.


Crow walked to the known reception room. The doors once more were opened by the maid. This time, however she did not walk in, she gently gestured to Crow to come inside, whilst standing in the door frame. Crow silently walked in. He knew the procedure quite well. He was raised with the family knowledge, it’s patronage.


Mere moments later, as Crow took a seat on a special cushion, next to low coffee table, the door on the other side of the room opened. Another maid walked in and placed the tea in front of him. Throughout the whole time – silence dominated the scene. Crow took a look at the tapestry he’d seen from young age. It reminded him of obedience that’s required and the consequences that commenced in case of disobedience.


He sat still for around five minutes, then had some tea. Around twenty minutes later the door was opened once more, this time the lord of the house was present. She walked over to the table, then sat opposite Crow. With her young looks and sharp eyes – she could be anything from the new great idol, to actress, but no, she was the best assassin this family had – the heir to the Shadow Family.


“So, I’ve heard that you began working with some spineless mongrel. Any progress with the case?” – She spoke politely, very calmly, yet the tinge of disgust was oozing from her words like venom. She hated anything that was below the level of “professional” that the family raised. Therefore she was not really approving of Crow falling so low, to work with Rat.


“Found the place of massacre. That’s already seventh. The traces of the same chemical is felt in the air. Even after a while. It’s the kind that our professor used in the making of the hydrogen bomb, though this time compounds to the weapon are not yet specified.” – Crow gave the report. – “I assume the new makers of bio-weapons had appeared in sewers. There’s a need to mobilize around two more family members. There’s also the new troublemakers from the south side. Which have to be taken care of.”

Mitch was having enough of Annas whining, so he had no other choice but to take her along. She was a little sister of a friend. The kind that would never leave you be, no matter the struggle. Yet she was already a survivor of one of the shard explosions. Although normal by the outer looks, she no longer was able to communicate in the same manner like always – she transgressed into state of half-pup. Eating from floors, sometimes barking, sleeping in dark corners of the house, maybe even garage. Mitch brought her out on his scouting of the new parts for bike, then they had to return, as the call from a supporter caught him off guard.


When the ride ended, she was lifted again. The kid slid her body onto a soft pile of clothing among the boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of old ladies who frequently powdered themselves—a light rose motif that played ironically well in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s ancestral brain. The pizza kid lifted her head to help her lap water from a hubcap. He broke bits of pepperoni and crust into bite-sized pieces and left them where her tongue could reach them. Much later, she heard him practicing his orations like songs. Like monks chanting in the distance, they were a comfort.


Mitch was eager to go on with this campaign he and fellow few helping hands had been making. All to overthrow the government that put them in such decline. Not been battling the shard explosion cases, the families of victims not compensated – it’s been feeling like a job that got rid of people, because it was intended so. Which frustrated Mitch even more.


“They could have been more honest, those lying sons of bitches…” – He frowned at the text from Sid, his main helper, friend in arms. The text said that some of the people who supported them, were actually some sort of spies, that recently died in stupid robbery incidents in the old part of town. 

“Mitchell Michael Croft! How many times does your mother have to remind you to not neglect the housework?” – Mother Mary, Mitches mum, showed up from the kitchen. – “I did tell you to throw out the garbage and do the dishes. Your politics can wait! Making your mother do all the work when capable of helping out. Not a boy anymore, Mitchell Michael Croft!”


Mitch flinched at his mother, as he knew the way this could play out. “Sorry mum, coming.” – He apologetically mumbles as he makes way into kitchen. “Don’t you make me come remind you again, young man!” – Mother Mary went on. “I won’t forget next time.” – Mitch moaned. “That’s the same crap you try to feed me fundred of other times, young man!” – Mother Mary smacked her son on the back of his head. – “Listen to your mother, you rascal!”


“So, honey I was wondering if you could call that friend of yours over for dinner sometime, you know, our sweet Trisha is in need of other half.” – Mum was pestering Rat. “Mu-um! Please stop.” – Trisha pleaded. Mum just gave her the evil eye : “Honey no, you have to find a man and get in on. Girl, I mean On! When will I get my grandkids, m? It’s not like I’ll live forever.” Rat and Trisha share a look. But the endless moaning of mother could not be escaped. 


Crow was walking down the night street of the most expensive and well guarded town part – where all the wealthy accumulate self and put that to the priority. He had a meeting with a person from the Estenda Party – the local government in power. The meeting should be to gain more intel, as per request of the Shadow Family. If found out – get rid of the evidences and witnesses. 


The great Diamond Casino was bustling with life. Wealthy men and women were buzzing like bees inside. Quite drunken and very demanding. It was the proper hell on earth for common people, because anyone without status of sort or the look of mercenary – would end up being sold, or stolen for goods that sell well on black market. That’s the open trade conducted all the time here.


Towards the back of the bustling casino, the elevator was placed – accessed exclusively by specially provided VIP cards. Crow pulled one from his pocket, swiped on the reader and the elevator doors opened. Once in, he pressed twenty-first floor. The elevator took off, going up, leaving the bustling of the people, to the quiet of the mechanics buzz.


Upon reaching the needed floor – doors opened. Crow walked out. Long hallway with carpet red in colour, walls that are a mixture of maroon red and placed gold framed paintings. Lights were soft from chandeliers hanging down the ceiling. The feeling of the expensive, of rich and luxury was oozing from each corner.


Crow found the room towards the end of the hall. Golden numbers 63 were placed on the door. Crow once more swiped his card at the entrance key. Door unlocked. Crow straightened his back, pushed the door open and walked in. “Evening mister Crow! What pleasure to meet you in person!” – a voice of a young man came from the room. 


“Pleasure’s all mine.” – Crow softly replied, as he managed a sweet smile. He saw the man blush. Indeed, this youngster was into other men and quite high profile information obtained from higher standing personas. Yet he was the easiest target to crack for the need of the investigation. 


Crow walked over to the young man. “Might I offer some good whiskey?” – Youngster got up and went to the bar corner. Crow took off his coat, leaving it on the table next to him. “As long as you’ll kingly pour some.” – Replied Crow in a sweet manner. Young man took the glasses and bottle, opening the cork, about to pour, when Crow came from behind, looking over the shoulder.


“Ah…” – Youngsters slight ought began showing. Crow was a head taller than him, breathing softly down others neck, as he observed the actions. Then Crow reached out from behind, to hold mans hands, as he nudged them to pour in some whiskey. Youngster turned to face Crow, only having a gentle smirk looking back at him. “Care to enjoy this a bit more?” – As if chant, Crows words made man become beet red in his cheeks and nod.


“They have failed us all! We must take it in our hands! The power was always belonging to us!” – Mitch spoke from the made-up podium in the street crossing under the bridge. Hundreds of people gathered to hear him speak. They stood encouraged, with spirits up, more and more ready to go for battle, to win that war.


The speech went on for a good few hours, encouraging and riling the people, giving some energy. Mitch pleaded to people to come and raise, to gather next time to fight for own livelihoods and future. Just down from gathering stood Trisha, she was encouraged and so motivated from words that Mitch let out. She was in awe.


“Gosh, so you’ve been like this with just a few of your friends at your side? You sure are strong willed.” – Trisha was admiring Mirch, as they sat outside the shop with few beer cans. “Yeah, tough, I know. But I really want us to have a change. It’s mad how they don’t really pay attention to us, neglect the crimes and murders.” – Mitch shook head in disagreement. – “They should face the trial, they should answer for all the wrongdoings.”


Crow sat in the reception area of the finest hotel. Rat came around to drop off a couple of files he found, then went off due to having an issue to solve with his girlfriend. The common life problems seemed alien to Crow. The files contained the details of the new murder scene, with more than thirty victims. Just like the rest of the similar cases – all of the shard events had no less than twenty people dead.


“Just a need to cut down the population.” – Words spoken by the young man in bed, after intense sexual intercourse drifted through Crows mind. It was the policies of the Estenda Party – to cut down population, starting with the poor and less fortunate. Just because the wealth accumulated was not enough. Just because a humans life was not of value to them. Irrelevant, simple and not existent. Items that can be disposed of. 


Yet Crow knew that quite similar ideas circulated in the Shadow Family. Just not to this extent. They only disposed of liars, idle bodies and people who brought nothing of value to add to family. Crow knew that it is a matter of time, maybe, before he gets to become this trace of shadow once in existence.


A maid came to Crow, delivering a sealed letter. She was standing out, yet blending in, in this hotel reception lobby. Crow opened the letter. “Take the bomb, set it in the gathering hall during the seating and main referendum. I want them useless hags and wrinkled fucks to bite the dust.” Crow knew that referendum was in two days. “She loves giving me that extra tight schedule.” – Crow thought to self.


“Mum, this is Mitch. He is my boyfriend” – Trisha introduced her new boyfriend to mum. “Oh lo-ord! Lo-ord! Goodness gracious! I am blessed! I am so blessed!” – Mother went on a dramatic note into kitchen getting some tea and sweets to table. Introductions are in place. Trisha apologetically smiled, as she pulled Mitch into the living room for tea.


“Crow, this is crazy, but the ting is, I can’t make it there in time. It’s all gonna hang on you. The precinct asks of me to help the…” – Rats voice tailed off. – “I just have to help. So no way I can be with you today.” Crows typical not bothered calm tone with reply “No problem” gave that little more reassurance to Rat, as he said his “See you.” with a smile.


The crowd gathered at the square near the luxury district. The crowd grows in size and most notable thing about it – the people of lower standing. The workers and doers of city got together to fight and take back the rights. Mitch and Trish in the head of the mass, leading it. Rat is next to them supporting the go.


Crow checks the last connection to the set off. Nods to self and leaves the premises. Minutes later he is driving towards the cemetery hill, where one of the first shard explosions went off. It’s the only place in the city above the most of the city. With best view one can find, yet saddest history one can manage.


“Crowd has gathered near Lux area, starting to move into it.” – Reporter from the helicopter is saying to camera man, as they circle the multiple thousand people gathering. “They request the change in government and the new policies to take effect. Back to you Sherry.”


Inside the television studio the anchor is on the camera. “Thank you. And that is what we have right now in Lux area. Meanwhile the referendum is taking place in the hall. All of the five hundred politicians have come together to solve the problems of our region. The shard cases had become the main topic of this referendum.”


Crow was atop the cemetery hill. Observing the life below and around. He stood next to one of the stone statues. One that was created for the previous head of the Shadow Family – Crowford. The father figure for Crow, the person who gave him name and calling. “Crowford Daniel Shadow, that’s how you named me, father.” – Crow put his hand on the marble stone. 


Inside the referendum there is a slight buzz of the people. Cameras are observing the scene. At one moment – old representative tries to open the door – locked. He walks up to the attendant, speaks, they both return to door and try to open it. No luck. Attendant says to not worry.


The crowd lead by Mitch, Trish and Rat are already in the middle of Lux area. And only now it becomes more to their awareness – the area is not containing the typical amount of people. It’s actually quite deserted. Rat looks up, as he stands still. “This can’t be…” – His thoughts are suddenly flooded with fear.


Two large explosions engulf two city areas. The explosions commence multiple times over, on the same spots. The dust and fire cover the sky, as the madness arises. The shouts, the cries and the ambulance sirens are off. Crow stands and watches the whole of this unfold. Phone rings. “You’ve done well. But surely it was a surprise that them politicians decided to shard own area just to kill of them rioters. Well done, my dear. Now we’ll have new city to rebuild.” – Crow hung up. He knew that Shadow family head was pleased now. Just like his father would.


Art by Jan Urschel – Artstaion

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