Birds of a Feather

by Lisa Harris

crowNothing is unreal as long as you can imagine like a crow.
~ Munia Kahn

Crows don’t wear watches. Time is not measured by irritating tic-tocs or marked off with Xs on calendar squares. Time as experienced by crows is an open window and omnipresent as air.

Hugin met Mugin on a pine bough outside the castle’s stonewalls. The crows’ feathers, a shiny black blue, resulted from Apollo’s throwing fire at their ancestors in a jealous rage centuries before. The two of them had served mighty King Odin, and in his service, they fell in love. It was he who named them: Hugin, for Thought, and Mugin, for Memory. First they hunted together. Then they sipped and tipped at the edge of a pond.

Hugin courted Mugin by fluffing and circling. He danced and dodged to win her.

Then they worked together for two weeks to build a nest at the top of a very tall pine. Hugin loved Mugin with every chamber of his great four-chambered heart. He carried bright shiny things to their nest and lined it with silver and glass.

Mugin laid five perfect pale green eggs in the new nest. She and Hugin took turns warming them for 18 days until the chicks pecked open their shells.

The crows fledged, but Hugin and Mugin continued to visit their old nest in the pine tree on cloudless nights, looking into vastness. And it was from their perch that they observed Luke, a ghost boy, wandering.

One crisp summer evening Mugin flew off. Hugin waited and waited for her return. When the sun rose the next day, he went in search of her and found her lying in a field—her glossy purple sheen had turned dull around the gunshot wound, browned by blood. Hugin could not weep, so in his grief, he gorged on one hundred grasshoppers, his fullness a desperate response to emptiness. He joined a murder of crows—tens of thousands of them—seeking solitude in numbers.

Hugin, in his raging sorrow, targeted a hawk that had been raiding crows’ nests. He ripped at its eyes with his beak, breaking the tiny socket bones. The other crows watched, impressed and disturbed, then Hugin left the group. He stopped jousting in the air and taught himself to fish with bread, but he would not eat his catch. Nothing he did or did not do resurrected Mugin, so he took her name, to honor her and to sustain his heart, and from that day on he was known as Hugin Mugin, becoming both thought and memory.

Hugin Mugin’s vision let him see into the past and the future, the before and the hereafter, the then and the now, heaven and hell. He believed he was immortal, because he had no memory of anything but life, and his best memories were of him with his life-mate Mugin.

After his expression of deep grief, Hugin Mugin began his search for another lonely creature he could travel with. Not a mate. Hugin Mugin picked at carrion alongside the roadways. He flew and flew and flew. He watched while other crow couples built their nests – they gathered twigs, strands of human hair, tick moss, and they collaborated to build their nests. Pain struck him like lightening. No more nests for him. No more green eggs, pale like the sky. No more bough sitting with Mugin to watch their chicks fledge.

While flying, he saw a single roan horse in a pasture, so he descended and landed on a fence post near the roan and watched. He entered the barn with it and sat aloft on a rafter, observing the stable boy pitch hay. The boy’s work and the horse’s tail gave life a momentary rhythm, but the crow could not stay.

Hugin Mugin flew day and night, north and south, east and west.

Then, one autumn day, he found himself on the eastern coastline of a northern island, and as he soared over the craggy coast, he spotted a woman in a black cape, her red hair flying out from her face like wings, and beside her walked a black Labrador.

Loneliness was the air they shared. It was upon them like a pestilence—smelling like mildew and sounding like a pitying of mourning doves. He flew in beside them—gliding and soaring—wanting to impress them with agility and control.

“I think we have a friend with us, Pomme,” Manette, the woman with the cape and red hair, said. She stopped walking, patted her black lab, and nodded toward the rock where Hugin Mugin waited.

Hugin Mugin flew down and landed five feet from her and Pomme. Instead of flying, he labored to walk beside them down the crag’s pathway to Manette’s cottage. Hugin Mugin began to settle in by smashing an ant and rubbing it on his feathers. Then he christened Manette with a secret name. “Ga-ha! Ga-ha!”

Manette whistled an echo. “I will call you Hugin Mugin.” Manette was a reader of Norse mythology. “You may not range the entire world, my friend, but I will rely on your keen vision and sharp ears as if you did. I need you to help me heal.”

“Ga-ha.” The crow pecked Manette gently on her cheek and swept her shoulder with his squared tail. Pomme sat on the step near both of them. From then on Manette, Pomme and Hugin Mugin became a trinity and each other’s salvation.


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing