A storm crow, blown out to sea by the unforgiving maelstrom of its namesake, lost, exhausted and failing, looked down at the black void of water and endless night below itself for what it thought would be the final time. And there, almost innocuous amid the thrusting current: a shape — bobbing, tossing, fighting the waves and the sucking depths in much the same way the drained bird was fighting gravity. In desperation, the storm crow folded its wings behind itself and dropped like a wraith wrought from iron. It fell, swooped, circled and finally landed on the shape with a braking flutter of its aching wings.
The waves heaved and broke around the storm crow, soaked its blacksheen feathers with stinging saltwater, but for the moment it allowed itself to feel safe. It closed its eyes against the brine spray and had just tightened the grip of its talons to prepare for sleep when it heard a weak and guttural sound from the heaving mass beneath it. The sound was barely recognizable as that which is made by a human, and it said: ow. And then it croaked, hoarsely: hello there. I guess I’ve been expecting you.
The storm crow then realized that the voice was coming from the shape upon which it was resting. The shape moved beneath its talons, causing the storm crow to flutter feebly up into the air above. It hovered there for a moment, taking stock. The shape moved again, and the storm crow finally understood that the shape itself was a man, floating in the water, a strange orange-colored device wrapped around his chest keeping him adrift.
The man lifted his limp head and turned a blister-blue face up to the circling crow. It’s all right, he said in a voice that rattled like stones in a gourd. Please, come back down here. I won’t hurt you. The storm crow landed gracefully back upon the man’s shoulder, grateful for the shelter and the minute heat emanating from the man’s neck.
They bobbed together for awhile in the surge, silent until the man cleared his throat as best as he was able and said I’m afraid I can’t offer you much time. I’m almost finished, you see. But I expect you know that. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? The storm crow looked at him and opened its beak. It cocked its head. It did its level best to project a feeling of gratitude and sympathy. It wished with all its crowpower for its pearl-black eyes to relay something other than their usual reflective mystery. The man seemed to understand. He closed his own bleakly red-rimmed eyes, and let his head drop forward onto the life-jacket again.
I’ll give you a bit longer to rest, he whispered, and they sailed on together some more, until the immense expanse of the ocean sky above them cleared of clouds and the stars were allowed to knit the fabric of eternity. The storm crow would be able to find its way home now, once it was rested.
The stars rotated. The quarter moon bounced across the edge of all visibility and finally dipped below sight. At one point the man took a soggy crust of bread from inside the remnants of his clothes and fed it to the bird, piece by tiny piece. The storm crow reflected that it had not been fed so delicately, or with such tender attention, since it was a nestling taking the offerings of its mother.
Finally, just as the eastern sky was beginning to turn pink, the man lifted his head one final time, seemed to scan frantically the diminishing stars and cried out: I can’t wait any longer! With stiffened saltcrack fingers he unfastened the buckles of his life-vest and shrugged it off. Startled, the storm crow flapped up into the air and hovered above him, black, vast and iconic. For a final time, the man cast his eyes upon the dark-winged forbearance of his witness, pulled his split and whitened lips into a manic grin and then slipped quickly beneath the surface of the waves.
Its strength renewed, the storm crow circled the bobbing empty life-jacket for several moments and then, as the sun bloomed ebulliently upon the tilting horizon, struck out in search of land, and home.