"Crowsong for the Stricken" by Ted Morrissey
Issue #20 / January 2016
Illustrated by Timothy Tang
TED MORRISSEY is the author of the novels An Untimely Frost and Men of Winter, the novella Weeping with an Ancient God, and the novelette Figures in Blue. His short fiction and essays have appeared in more than thirty journals, including Glimmer Train Stories, The Chariton Review, PANK, Writers Ask and the North American Review. To learn more about his work and future publicaitons, visit www.tedmorrissey.com.
"The village constructed a special awning on their front porch above the door, hung strips of heavy opaque plastic from it to form a kind of chute or anteroom, and initiated the lottery among the men to see who would use the pole to deposit a paper bag of food and medicine before the door. It was a simple, time-honored procedure; a bag with handles would be used. Standing on the strickens’ uneven brick walk, the designee would use the wooden pole to place the bag on the porch, pushing through the strips of heavy plastic, slide the pole from the bag’s handles when the supplies were in position, and then use the pole to thump once upon the door. The stricken knew to wait a full minute before opening the barrier, giving the designee enough time to remove himself off their property and scramble across the street, where the curious would congregate to watch as the door opened and a vague figure emerged through the opening just far enough to retrieve the paper bag before slamming the door shut behind them.
The onlookers could not help but measure the length of time it took to open the door and retrieve the bag, to listen to the force of its shutting. They’d try to interpret these gestures as a form of news just as peoples of old were said to have read bird-sign or spider-webs or the haphazard arrangement of animal bones spilled from a lacquered box.
It was a traditional two-story house, similar to perhaps three-quarters of the homes in the village, except that the council had designated it a “plague house” by a unanimous vote on December seventeenth. The awning and plastic had been erected on the eighteenth. It was nearly spring now and snowmelt ran in the eaves. Theirs overflowed because the rooks had nested.