With a parched throat, the icy winter air, cut deep into my lungs as I struggled to keep my stumpy fingers warm. Blowing on them, with what was left, of my semi warm breath, brought no relief. Before me, was the evidence of rivers gone by, canyons crudely chiselled with blunt tools. Staring out over the morning horizon, the sun etched its way through the puffy clouds. I felt so small, insignificant, and unimportant against this phenomenon of life. Yet so many wasted this precious gift and I was responsible for taking so many. As the years matured, cruelty became my default.
Alone and desolate, absorbing the red glow of the sun, I watched as it cast its rays over the Grand Canyon, Arizona. The realisation came. I didn’t deserve to be there, with no witnesses to my regret. My life, up until that point, had been all about death. That was me – Shaun Drew, hired hitman. So many years had been spent, killing and butchering. It came easy, and my reward was high. So many lives, were taken, humans and animals alike. Such power was felt as their memories and their fire slipped away. Some existences were magnificent. Yet in that single moment, when a gun was held to their heads, they were reduced in every aspect of dignity. But my enjoyment was slowly turning to repentance.
Some got angry, but most cried like little bitches. I once had the CEO of a major bank, pissing in his boots pleading, begging for his life. He was almost let him go until, he began to grovel like the snivelling bastard he really was. Making small talk, is a waste of time and oxygen. So, I pulled the trigger, not even blinking, as a single clean shot went through his forehead. He jerked backwards before falling. The ground behind him was a mess, splattered with bits of brain, flesh and oozing blood. His body fell with a thud, and all I could think of, was how the fat shit deserved to die.
Everyone and everything had a price. There was no shame in taking a life for me. My consciousness did struggle with women and children, so those jobs were declined. Call me old fashioned, but I couldn’t do what ‘Johnny no fingers’ did, especially to women. Tired- tired of death became my thoughts. Ten years of carnage and I was worth over ten million dollars for my services. No wife, no kids, no conscience. I restored the balance in society. Representing innocent people, who had been cheated in some way, was my preference. Unfortunately, they could not afford me. So, the rich and powerful dominated my business. Enslaved and trapped by my own greed of more. More money, more power, more death. Clarity began to hit my consciousness. My eyes absorbed a melancholy moment, observing creation. It’s as though Mother Nature was whispering to me; stop.
And then I saw him. Cloaked in black wings, shimmering a touch of jade green. Light darted across his back, strong, heavy and with nebulous dark eyes. His perfect thick beak pointing towards me, like I was a naughty child. He had been watching me the whole time, judging, sentencing and awaiting my execution. He sat perched on a cold metal railing, obscuring the perfect picture shot. Good thing I wasn’t taking a photograph, I thought. My ears burning hot and my neck paralysed. Fear and dread, wafted over me in waves, but my confusion couldn’t work out why. He was only a crow. Legends believed, that a single crow was an omen for bad luck. Harbouring negative feelings of doom. But the Native American Indians believed that it meant good luck. My beliefs, polarised. I moved closer, thinking he would move away. After all, I was the supreme species, the top of the food chain and I was a trained killer. He shuffled left to right, rearranging his weight from one claw to the other. That’s when I noticed a missing foot, replaced with a stump. Across the right of his beak was a deep scar, as though he had been swiped with a blade. Curiously, it felt like we shared a similar story, that somehow, we were connected in our bloody histories. I too, had a scar across the right of my face from a blade.
It happened a few years previously when fist fighting with a gang member, who I was hired to kill. He had caught me by surprise, no guns, only this one large hunting knife hacking at my body. I remember the blade slicing my cheek open, tweaking the end of my nose. As the knife swayed back and forth, the intricate markings of the bone handle carved its own memory into my mind. How fascinating. The handle resembled similar markings to a book my mother had given to me decades before. Whilst deep in thought about the patterns, my body fell into autopilot. I managed to grab his wrist and turn the knife into his body and it was driven, hard into his chest. I’ll never forget the all too familiar look on the Hispanic’s face. His mouth fell open, dripping blood, a sweaty brow and eyes that whispered the same final words – oh shit! I removed the knife and wiped the blade clean on his shirt before inspecting the markings on the handle. I knew it! The patterns were identical. That knife was destined to be mine. Years on, that very same blade had ended forty-eight lives, the same number of years I had been alive for.
Back on the Canyon, to my surprise, the crow stayed there, taunting me into a stand-off. Stepping closer, still he did not move. Does this bird not know how dangerous I am? My confusing thoughts were racing in my fatigued mind. Then, with no warning he stretched out both wings, flapped a little and then casually flew to the ground. He then continued to hop away. I flinched, how curious was my action, it confused me. Never had I shown anxiousness or nervousness. Yet that crow made me feel uncomfortable. Was my gut instinct right or wrong? Was my feathered enemy an omen, a bad omen, harbouring death? It was only a bird, nothing more, nothing less, I told myself.
My leathery skin, absorbed the tepid warmth of the morning sun. No more thought was given to my winged companion. The final job, was around the corner. Retirement was imminent. I could taste the freedom. This final hit, had a large payout. Money wasn’t needed but there was a desire to have a final farewell, a ceremony of my parting. Deep in the canyon, was the hit and his wife riding mules. But I was travelling on foot, which was tricky. Temperatures at ground level, were sub zero and ice made the rocks slippery. On entering my car to head further along the road, the crow was found, sitting on the bonnet, to get warm, I presumed. He sat there peering straight at my soulless surprise. My pounding heart softened, as I found myself searching for food to give to him. It’s as though I was searching for retribution. Nestled between the gear stick and handbrake, was a two-biscuit packet. Compliments of my motel. Crushing the contents, and sprinkling some on the bonnet, the crow tilted his head to one side and watched my movements. He edged forwards to peck at the delights left for him, with no caution.
A sense of urgency, drained from my schedule, after all, I had the whole day to kill. The crow finished eating, stared at me as though he was almost smiling, and then flew away. A wave of calmness, swept over me and for once, I was at peace. My feathered friend had restored my faith in life. His small action of friendliness, replaced the pining for normality. One more kill- hell, I’ll do her in as well if she gets cocky, I thought. Okay, two kills and I’m done forever. Can’t leave witnesses. Content with that thought. I planned to do the killings first, while it was a comfortable brisk temperature. Then hike out of the valley back to civilisation, as the day warmed up.
An hour later, found myself clambering over rocks as I descended into the canyon. No one was around, but my given instructions were, that my hit had camped a little further ahead. My only concern, was that it echoed; every rock falling, cough, and sneeze, even my breathing sounded loud. If there was a scuffle or scream, it would be heard. How was I going to keep them quiet? There was no access to my L42 Enfield sniper rifle. I was going to have to do it the old-fashioned way; with my bare hands and my trusted bone handle hunting knife. Being splattered in other, people’s blood, still makes me squirm. There is always the worry about catching some disease but more so, is the smell left on me. Believe it or not, different people have quite unique blood smells. Once dried out, it can be disgusting. It’s as though I can smell their life story. Filled with inadequacies, missed opportunities and perverted idiosyncrasies, seen only by themselves. That’s where my disposable plastic rain poncho came in handy on that occasion. Not the trendiest attire but functional.
The otherwise, flawless blue sky, was interrupted by, billowing grey and white smoke, in the distance. Only, the city slicker would be stupid enough to light a fire for all to see. It had to be my target. I crawled over more rocks until, getting a clear view of them. He was a tall man, in good physical shape and his wife, at least ten years his junior. They looked like they would be hard to kill. He was well built, but I was confident that my previous experience, was going to make this double execution, quick. His wife was attractive in a showgirl way. What a shame, but I had to leave no witnesses.
Stopping shy of the horizon, I hid behind some rocks and cactus. The shadow cast, offered some added cover as I tried not to get pricked. But feeling clumsy, like it was my first-time stalking, my actions were childish. In fact, my first ever kill was hit and miss.
In those days, I earned an honest living, working in New York City for a pension insurance company. Boring, yes…long hours…yes; chance to sleep with my boss; absolutely! I was a young buck of twenty-one years old with everything to prove, especially the size of my dick. That’s one thing God had blessed me with and I knew how to use it. My boss, was a forty something woman named Kristie. She was, married with two kids and a boring husband. She spent her whole working day flirting with me, until I finally banged her on her desk. Her family pictures watched us with disgust. Since that day, she did nothing but over pay me and demand more sex.
I had finished one of ‘our sessions’ and had entered Penn Station. The champagne was repeating in my throat and then came the urge to spew. Cupping my mouth and looking around for somewhere discreet to chuck. Nowhere was found, in a crowded subway; so, I spewed in my hand. The vomit leaked between my fingers and the smell made me wretch some more. So, there I was, puke in one hand, sweat pouring off me and low and behold, some random hobo had struck me hard across the back of my head. The memory of falling forwards, regurgitated champagne flying in the air, and my assailant standing over me, was hacked into my memory. As I lay there on my side, a boot swung towards me straight into my face. My nose exploded and the pain was excruciating, like my skull had been split wide open. Despite the horror, all I could focus on, was my airborne puke descending in slow motion as it splattered my attacker. He let out a little girl scream, that’s when I knew; I had this. Tackling his leg, made him fall. The man was dressed in old layers of dirty clothes and stunk of piss, oh and my insides.
I don’t know what it is about New York City, but no one cares; about anything or anyone. On one street, a baby could be born and dumped outside a restaurant and on the next, a brutal stabbing. No one came to stop us or help me. People walked on by, in fact the passageway became vacant. Alone with no one to stop me, I pinned the man down and began to punch him hard across the face. The sensation draining from my drunk fists. He put up a bit of a fight but then he went limp. Thinking he passed out, I wasn’t going to take the risk of him coming after me. I grabbed a tuft of his wiry hair, as though he was about to be scalped. Slamming his head onto the concrete floor, felt powerful. Then the thud noise became a squelch sound. He was dead. There was no going back. Rage had taken over. Feeling violated, my revenge was satisfied. I was surprised, it felt good, liberating. Was I supposed to feel that good after killing someone?
Well after that night, I became a changed person, hunting for opportunities to kill. I wanted to explore my skills but more so, the exploration of my mind is what interested me. That’s when Roderigo Dominic- a retired assassin, walked into my life. He put my talents to good use. Gone was my pension job paying measly twenty- five thousand dollars a year and bang I started my new job at two hundred and twenty thousand dollars a hit. Off course, the hits were mainly the rich and famous. The only downside, was missing my sessions with Kristie. I remember being very clumsy in the early days. Noisy and blood was splattered everywhere. There was, evidence of fingerprints and DNA left around, not to mention the murder weapon on several occasions. Thank heavens for Roderigo, who sorted out my careless blunders.
Hiding behind the cactus back in the Grand Canyon, felt like I was twenty-one again. Bumbling along dropping rocks and sliding straight into cactus spikes. My hand tried to stop the advance but who does that? Me of course. Yelping out in pain, my palm, speared with spikes, I snapped my other hand over my mouth. The spikes penetrated my flesh and I couldn’t believe, what a dick move I had made. The hit and his wife were going to notice the yelping. In my grand moment of stupidity, there beside me, smiling again; was the crow.
My attention was, divided between watching my feathered friend laugh at me with surprised eyes and the hit and his wife looking around in my direction. I ducked further behind the cactus, getting more spikes pierced into my body. My hand snapped back over my mouth again, muffling my own voice, as I winced from yet more pain. Feeling uncomfortable, my body twisted like it was possessed by a demon. Watching as they patrolled their camp, they soon settled after about five minutes later. Pulling out the spikes embedded in my throbbing hand, was like pulling out teeth. All the while, the crow watched me with amusement.
‘Not funny!’ I grunted, ‘don’t look at me all doom and gloom.’ But the crow perched on a rock and stared. His hunchback protruding, with wings dipped to the earth. It was as though I was being tested. Tested for my final performance. My hand was burning with pain and it began to swell. After thirty minutes of physical and psychological torture, I edged forwards, keeping low. The crow, as my only company, hopped down with me. He seemed to enjoy the fact that I was in agony, and he would not go away, despite my futile attempts to shoo him. Panic set in, as my chances were looking bleak. Being on foot, meant, I had to get to them quick before they mounted their mules. Throughout my ordeal, the crow followed me, offering no help or even empathy, only ridicule.
Finally getting to a swimming hole, near the Havasu Falls, was the man bathing. He must’ve been one of those adrenalin seekers, since the water temperature would have been a brisk twenty-two degrees Celsius all year round. The woman was back up over a ridge, cooking breakfast, well out of sight. The man was diving underwater, unaware that his life was about to be gone. When he resurfaced near the edge, I grabbed his hair and before he had a chance to say anything, his throat was slit. My blade wasn’t as sharp as it usually was and he gurgled a noise, as blood filled his throat. I ran the well-used metal several times across his neck, as he in desperation clung to life. Flaps of flesh floated from my successful cuts but his will to live was strong as his arms thrashed around. I decided to hold him down underwater to silence him. He splashed in a frenzy like piranha’s feeding and I hoped to god, that the woman hadn’t heard the water fizzing, from his choking.
After a couple of minutes, he was dead. Pulling his limp body out of the water was easier than I thought. Although, dragging to hide it behind some rocks, proved problematic as the rocky ground kept grabbing him, slowing my movements. Don’t know why I bothered, there was blood everywhere-in the water, on the bank, and a clear trail to where he was hidden. The crow, hopped onto the body and wasted no time in striking his eyes. Several hard blows and the little nugget popped out, ligaments still attached. The crow seemed happy with his prize and soon went to work on the other eye. My stomach turned with disgust and fear. On one hand, we were partners in crime, yet on the other, he was my grim reaper. Were my eyes also expendable? It would only be a matter of time, until the woman saw the blood-stained swimming hole and the lack of her husband. I approached her to gain the element of surprise. She sat by a fire pit drinking coffee. Relief was close. These were my final murders. On nearing, the crow hopped close to her. The mules were tied to a tree and they began to shuffle in fear, running into each other, dust flying. She screamed and started to throw rocks at the crow. When she saw me, she ran in my direction for protection.
‘Get rid of it!’ she exclaimed, ‘I hate crows.’
There was no, who are you and what are you doing here? I wrapped her frail body in my arms and said, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll soon get bored. He may be hungry.’ Even though I knew he had minutes before, eaten her dead husbands’ eye balls. ‘I’m Shaun, you can call me ranger Shaun. Thought I’d check on you folks. Do you have a permit for camping?’ I asked in an authorative manner hoping she would fall for my confidence.
‘Oh erm; yes, we do somewhere,’ she spoke with a nervous voice as she picked up various bags in search of the permit. ‘My husband will know where it is, he’s having a swim and will be back soon.’
‘No problem, I’ll wait.’ I was already planning how best to end her life, when my crow friend decided to appear again. This time he had a bit of blood dripping flesh in his beak, from the fresh kill stuffed behind the rocks. My heart pounded hard, as I could not believe, that he was blowing my cover.
‘Eww, what is that?’ She asked scrunching up her nose.
I diverted the conversation elsewhere, ‘There’s a dead lizard a little way back,’ nodding with my nose towards the opposite direction. She walked towards me and I did not want to exchange in any conversation. I wanted her gone. My feathered friend hopped closer which caused her to scream again. This made the mules break their ropes and gallop away. It sounded like someone was murdering her, yet I hadn’t even started yet. Oh, shut up! I thought, you dumb bitch. My opportunity came quick as she ran towards me again. She was desperate to be rescued. But instead I drove my knife into the top of her skull. Holding it steady, whilst hammering it in deeper using my opposite fist, she dropped to her knees. I drove the blade further, by pushing it into her tender head, listening to it crunch and vacuum blood. Stepping back, I watched her die. Her eyes lifted towards me, blood oozing down her pretty face. There was no noise, only a look of bewilderment. Sitting in the dirt, forearms resting on my knees watching her movements, this kill was symbolic to me. A closed chapter, the end of the book. It left me wondering, what was she thinking in her final moments? Was it your life flashing before your eyes, was it peaceful or painful. She was innocent, but she was married to a bad man and she was a witness. Tiny ants swarmed around the pool of blood collecting on the ground. Her precious life was slipping away. Her eyes searched for me looking for comfort, as though it was someone else that drove the blade into her skull. She finally fell forward, lifeless. I paused for a good five minutes, with a sense of relief. My first kill was exhilarating but my last, saddened me. Not from regret or empathy, but from the realisation that I was good for nothing else. She had to die, otherwise she would’ve involved the cops. At least that way, both were dead with no witnesses. My contemplation and serenity was interrupted by the crow, who sat on her back pecking and twisting her flesh from the base of her neck.
‘Stop that,’ I said trying to shoo him away, but he kept coming back. After a frustrating few minutes of my perpetual hand fanning, I finally turned her over. The crow stared at me in appreciation then pecked at one eye. He had some difficulty trying to pop it out. My attention went to raiding their camp which took me a good ten minutes to get rid of all identification. On returning to her body, the crow was still there, desperate for her delicacies. He hopped towards me twisting his head from side to side and then hopped back to the woman’s body. It’s as though he was signalling to me.
‘Really? You want me to dig her eyes out?’ It seemed so. The crow kept swooping towards my head, harassing me until finally, in disbelief, the thought was entertained. ‘Alright, alright. Fine, I’ll do it. But you leave me alone after this.’ The knife was hard to pull out of her skull but once released, I proceeded to cut around one of her eye balls. All the time, the crow looked from her eye to me in anticipation. The ligaments were tough like thick elastic bands holding on. Finally severing the last string, made the eyeball pop out in the air and roll along the dirt. The crow swooped down to catch it before returning for the other. The process repeated. What a sick and twisted bastard I had become. It was as though my services as a hired hit man were still needed by my accomplice. The crow as my new boss. I was doomed-perhaps he was an omen indeed. Not to hurt me, only to keep me killing. Trapped, with no retirement. But my connection with that creature had me questioning my purpose.
I thought my life couldn’t become more complicated, when it took a sharp ninety- degree turn. My cloaked friend began to morph into something big. A black smoke swirled around it, engulfing both of us, making me feel dizzy and sick. Once the mini twister was gone, standing in front of me, was a creature. He wore a long black hooded cape, on a human frame, but had the head of a bird, the crow. His feet exposed. One had talons the other was a complete stump. He was holding a wooden staff, its shape, twisted and knurled. At the top, was a metal claw that held an eyeball. Ligaments draped through the claw and the eye darted in several directions trying to focus. Then it stopped, when it saw me and the once green eye turned blood red then black.
The ground shook, as the creature limped towards me. Was this an illusion, had I lost my mind, I wondered? It picked up the knife and inspected the markings, then pointed it at me. Petrified and unable to move, the scene playing out before me, made me gasp, this was real. I was afraid for once in my life. As the creature approached, it pulled out a small notebook that looked identical to the one my mother had given me years before. It opened the pages and stopped at one. The book was then flipped to face me and it used the knife to point at the blank page.
I struggled to see, but soon enough, the page lit up as though an invisible pen was writing in blood; a word. It said Shaun, and then the book burnt up into ash. What did it mean? The creature with no hesitation ripped out the eyeball that was resting in the staff. It threw it to the floor and rushed towards me, holding the knife under my bottom eyelid. It all happened so fast. With the beak facing me, eyes blinking like an alien, it paused, waiting for a response from me. The understanding came about the meaning of my life. Destined for doom, from the way I lived, to the way I killed. The notebook was my first warning as a small child, and then the knife as a young man. And now, older, the crow. My chance for salvation was staring at me. All that needed to be done, was lose my dignity, to plead for my life, to beg forgiveness and redemption, but I was a killer. No empathy. So, I smiled at the creature. In one swift action, it sliced and tugged my left eyeball out. There was no pain, only the sound of it popping out. I cradled my bleeding wound as it dug in deep into the other eye.
The blood oozed down my face, warm and sticky against the cold air. My hands were wet from feeling around and into the empty sockets, yet somehow my sight was untouched. Looking around, I saw myself kneeling, dark pits from where my eyes once were. On the floor, I could see one of them rolling. The creature placed its stump over it and pressed down. Brown jelly popped from the sides as the eye collapsed under the pressure.
Next, there was a black mist and then I was somehow in the streets of London watching a man carve up a woman. Then, back in New York watching a gang of thugs brutally bash an old man to death. Russia took me to an abattoir and these horrendous journeys continued, over and over. I witnessed the most terrible atrocities and with no eyelid or the ability to turn, the horrors became immortal. The crow stayed with me everywhere, that’s when the conclusion came, that I was the eyeball in the staff. My only redemption; was to not empathise, to stay a killer, cold and apathetic.