“Decline” – Prologue

A whirlpool of crows swirls above, justifying our murderousness

I wasn’t here for this part. But I can’t help seeing it.

The thick mist curled in through the arrow-slit windows, causing condensation to form along the concrete surfaces of the room. The water gathered in the pockets of the concrete refuge, raining down from the tops of the windows and the roof with a steady, maddening patter.

There were two men and one woman in the room. The younger man, Eric, would have been handsome in another time and place. He was at one wall, carving into the cement with an old, blunt knife, oblivious to the water dripping down his face. Behind him, pressed up against the wall in the far corner of the small antechamber, Anna was screaming. In between each anguished crescendo, she cried pitifully and clutched her abdomen gingerly, her fingers twisting and writhing on top of her soaked shirt. Each howl caused the young man to wince and shake visibly. He was deep inside his own head, trying desperately to ignore what had unfolded—what was unfolding—by concentrating on the words he was carving.

The older man, Percy, was tall and thin, and his long dark hair was showing gray. He watched Eric from the doorway, rocking pensively on his heels. He had seen him write those words before, but he didn’t know if Eric had composed them, or memorized them: 

A whirlpool of crows 

Swirls above, justifying 

Our murderousness.  

The older man mouthed each word absently like gentle lyrics against the young woman’s howled strains. Every scream added further certainty to what had to be done—but it wasn’t as simple as being sure.

Percy inspected the room from where he stood, his mind falling easily into the exhausted mechanics he hadn’t used in years. His eyes went to the floor, which was caked with dust and mud, then to the walls, which were wallpapered with oily condensation, and finally to the tarnished implement with which Eric was inscribing his words over and over. This would not be acceptable, he thought. Then he laughed at the unacceptableness of it all. Without real mirth, the laugh sounded like a short, sharp bark, and it caused the younger man to recoil as much as Anna’s screams did.

All of the tools Percy once trusted were long gone, including the steadiness of his hands. He knew there were two options: the young man’s blade, or indifference. The two men could leave and strike out on their own again. God knew they owed nothing, needed nothing, except each other—so why stay? Would it really be different this time?  

The decision was made. Percy limped over to the woman, seizing the knife from Eric’s grip as he passed. The young man’s hands froze for a moment where they’d hovered on the wall, and then he pressed them against his ears. The older man dropped to his knees in front of Anna. When he knelt, he started by holding her shoulders, trying to calm her, but she only panicked at his touch. Long gone, also, was his patience. He tried pulling her hands away from her abdomen.

“Move them.” His firm voice turned violent. “Move. Them!”  

A whirlpool of crows. Justifies our murderousness.

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