On a cold, dark winter morning in early December, Jillian went after breakfast for a walk in the park near her apartment—a daily activity of hers that brought her much joy.
It took about five minutes to get from her apartment to the entrance of the park. When she passed through the gate, she noticed that as usual, only a few joggers were present at that time of day. It was still too early for other visitors.
The ground was covered with a thick layer of snow that glimmered when pale rays of sunshine occasionally peaked through the dense, grey clouds. It had been a week since it had last snowed. Like a white blanket enveloping everything in a tender embrace—the snow protected the slumbering nature until it was time to awaken again in spring.
A gentle, cold breeze was blowing, scattering an icy fragrance about, leaving a chilly sensation on the skin. Shivering, Jillian buried her chin deeper in her shawl. She stopped walking for a brief moment to breathe in the fresh, cold air.
On the way to the lake, snow-covered oaks and birches lined up on either side of the narrow path. Jillian continued walking for a few minutes, nearing the lake, until she abruptly came to a halt. The sudden loud cry of a crow startled her. She snapped to the direction from where the cry came from—on her right, high above on one of the oaks. But there was no crow to be seen.
A few moments later there came another piercing crow call, this time from the left side, again seeming that one would be sitting high above in a tree. Jillian turned to her left just to be fooled again.
“This is getting a little spooky,” she muttered to herself nervously.
A third cry—coming from the original direction. Jillian hesitated to turn. If she would ignore these disturbing cries, perhaps they would stop. And perhaps she was only imagining hearing them after all.
The cries continued and so, at last, Jillian shifted her gaze to the right and looked up to the highest branches of the oak. The cries ceased when she caught sight of two crows sitting on the same branch. Without hesitation, they fluttered down toward where Jillian was standing and landed half a meter away from her, and merely just stared.
“You scared me good you two, didn’t you?” she exclaimed in a relieved tone while gazing down at them. Smiling, she continued her little “chat” with the crows, saying, “Are you two friends?”
She observed them, but her smile faded once she realized that these crows were far from ordinary—they had something sinister about them.
Their claws seemed bigger and sharper than those of normal crows, a feature she could differentiate—she has spent a lot of time in the past observing crows and other corvids. They possessed small, shiny eyes, dead-looking button eyes like those of teddy bears, fixed on a grim countenance. The grey-black wings were immaculate, every feather neatly arranged and shimmering.
She shook her head. No, animals couldn’t possess a sinister aura, let alone be evil. That was just silly. Not even dangerous animals were evil—nature just shaped them into peculiar and distinctive creatures.
The crows started fluttering with their wings and it seemed as if they were pointing with them in the same direction. They took off to where they pointed, flying slowly as if they wanted Jillian to follow them. And so she did.
They led her to the lake, which wasn’t far away. At this time of the year, the whole surface of the lake is frozen with a thick layer of ice. The crows landed at the shore. Jillian was close behind.
She reached the shore and gazed at the spot where the crows pointed with their beaks.
She immediately screamed. In the lake, beneath the ice, was the body of an old man.
He had long dirty disheveled hair and a beard and wore rags. The truly terrifying thing about him was his eyes. They were bulging in sunken sockets, appearing lifeless, staring straight into Jillian’s eyes.
This poor man must have fallen into the lake before it froze. He drowned, nobody had found him, and so, his lifeless body was floating now under the ice. But it seemed impossible that nobody noticed the body before the lake froze. Jillian thought, but her thoughts were interrupted when she witnessed sheer horror. The old man’s eyes blinked. He was alive!
Jillian didn’t scream this time. A surge of terror flowed through her whole body in realization, heart pounding in her chest. Was this why the crows led her here? Did they notice he was still alive and wanted to bring someone to help him?
She turned to look at them, but they were gone. They couldn’t have flown away though—she hadn’t heard the fluttering of their wings, the only thing that would have indicated that.
She then turned again to the man in the lake and was horrifyingly shocked when she saw that he too had vanished. As if he had never been there.
Jillian would think about this terrifying incident for years to come, pondering if what she saw was real or imagined. She never dared to visit the park ever again and decided it was best to move to another city, far, far away.
She often had nightmares about that horrific encounter. Sometimes in her dream, the old man would blink, and jump through the ice, breaking it effortlessly. He would grab Jillian and pull her down with him into the depths of the lake.
She always woke up screaming afterward.
Angela Patera is an emerging writer and published artist whose art has appeared in numerous publications, as well as on the cover of Selenite Press and Penumbra Online. Most of her story ideas come from dreams, but sometimes inspiration strikes to invent own ones. When Angela isn't creating, she likes to spend time outside in nature. You can find her on both Twitter and Instagram as: @angela_art13