I contemplated getting back on my bike and hastily pedalling back home as the silence pressed in on me. Suddenly a reassuring rustle on my left gave way to the sight of a tiny robin hopping onto a branch and turning its beady eyes towards me.
Seconds dripped by like minutes. Then the robin jumped onto another branch, tilted his head thoughtfully and took flight down the tree covered road. I got on my bicycle and pedalled after him, barely paying attention to the near lethal road surface as I narrowly missed potholes that could only be explored through spelunking.
With my eyes scanning the tree line ahead of me, I didn’t see the apples that had spilled into the road. As my bike hit the first bruised ball of glossy red flesh, I broke the silence that had engulfed the countryside around me.
Dazed, I crawled up from the frame of my bike, cradling my right arm and finding it difficult to put weight on my left ankle. Blood trickled down my right forearm, staining my fluorescent sports top. I was glad for the helmet on my head as I surveyed the mess I had made of the apples on the road. A basket the apples were meant to be in was upside down under an upturned table. The table was at the foot of a driveway to a farm, but was intact. A money box for donations from those wishing to purchase the apples was unopened.
The robin was gone.
Who or what knocked over the table? I thought to myself, as I tried to pull my bike upright, but it hurt to move. I gave up and dragged the frame to the end of the drive.
“Peony Farm,” I whispered, looking up the grassy drive that cut through the trees. The wooden farm sign hung from a rusting frame. I half-remembered the sound of children’s laughter carrying through the hay fields many summers ago.
Those children of the farm had long since left for university and work elsewhere, bombarding me with text messages every other day, but their parents still owned the farm. They lived with the grandchild of the one child they hoped they would ever bury. The Robertsons were as close to family as I got after my own parents divorced.
And apples from their orchard were in the middle of the road. There wasn’t a wasp in sight.
I dragged my bike out of the road and slowly limped my way up the drive to Peony Farm. There were no cows in their fields, at least not on this side of the farm. But as I neared the farmhouse, I at least expected to hear the odd chicken.
The silence felt wrong. It rolled over me and made a tight sick feeling pool in the bottom of my stomach.
Quiet granite block walls greeted me as I reached the old farmhouse. There should have been lights on in the kitchen window that fronted the yard outside. Ted Robertson should have been enjoying some breakfast after carrying out the morning milking. Gail should have been readying little Alex for the day.
Instead, when I leaned against the kitchen windows and peered in through the gloom I saw no one. Worryingly, the back door was open. I left my bike in the yard.
Hobbling around the house I didn’t see or hear another living creature. But I gave a sharp intake of breath as I was finally able to study the back door or what was left of it as it lay in splinters on the grass. The wrecked door frame indicated that it had been forced open from the inside, the shattered wood hanging outwards.
I took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold.
That’s the end of part 2 of The Crows. Please vote in the poll below to help decide where the story goes next. Voting is open until the end of Friday evening.