Author: Donna J. W. Munro
“The most intelligent creature wasn’t some begging dog or the hump crazy dolphins,” Randal said to Sophie as they walked the perimeter of the bowl valley waste they guarded. “It’s crows.”
In the distance, a crow laughed at the sky and landed on a gnarled branch that grew from the cracked-up river wash, dry now for fifty years.
Sophie nodded. She’d heard it before. She shifted the rifle further back on her shoulders and glanced through the binoculars to where the crow hopped from the branch onto the ground, picking through pebbles.
“Why, if crows ran the world, we’d probably all be better off,” Randal said, probably for the millionth time.
Not a lot to do out in the wastes of Ohio. Maybe in Manitoba there were green things that grew, but here there was just grit and wind to guard. Still, Sophie didn’t complain. They had it worse down south, living underground because of heat. The interfilms whispered about cannibalism in the caves.
If Randal wasn’t such an idiot, he might have tried to eat her when she’d stumbled across the ragged mountains begging for water from his evaptank. He took her in. Made her his little sister. Back in the old world, they’d have called Randal an imbecile or a retard or some other awful thing. But in this world, he thrived. Things made sense to him and he became the protector of this bit of land.
He collected up living things and protected them in his hill cabin, a buried fortress of shipping containers lined with the flotsam of the old world. No one came here because… there was nothing here. But Randal managed to find the occasional rabbit, worms, a stray cat, and even some little green things he sheltered and grew inside the hill. He’d found her. Any other guy might have mauled her, raped her, killed her for meat. Randal didn’t eat meat. He couldn’t hurt a fly. And the raping? He wasn’t interested in it.
Just a big strong kid with a good heart here at the end of the world.
“Randal, why do you like crows so much?”
He smiled rolling the shovel he carried across the ridge of his shoulder.
“I dream about crows all the time. When I do, the evaptank gets more water and we find plots of fat earthworms to eat. They bring me good luck. Beside you, they’re the only things left around here that talk. Caw-Caw!”
Sophie nodded, pulling her feathery, black skirt up to step over a branch.
“What if I told you that you were the only person left on earth, Randal, and that the crows are taking care of you as best they can. They make up all those stories about other places. Other people. To keep you happy. For old time sake. What if I told you that you are their special pet?”
Randal twisted his mouth as he did when he thought deeper than his pool allowed. “There’s worse things, right Sophie? I’d rather be a crow’s pet than some monster eating babies like they say on the interfilms. But wait… what you say can’t be true, because you’re here. You are a person like me. Don’t be so silly, Sophie.”
She smiled and leaned in toward him, pecking him on the cheek.
“Right, right, Randal. Even so, you’re right. Let’s get back and eat. I bet the rabbits are hungry, too.”
He laughed and as he walked away, muttering happily about the rabbits and the plants in his burrow under the hill, Sophie walked a few steps behind. Parts of her broke off, black and feathery, and flew away, messengers carrying back word of Randal’s needs to the kingdom of crows. The flock of Sophie would keep him alive for as long as they could, for old times’ sake, but after him the whole world would be made up of crows.