Excerpt from Song of the Crow by Layne Maheu, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Song of the Crow

by Layne Maheu

Song of the Crow by Layne Maheu
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2007, 244 pages

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But when the others left and Our Many leaned low to nudge us, or cooed down at us with her horn barely parted and trembling like two reeds, a wondrous warmth filled the nest. A blue-black cast spread out and covered us like our mother’s worn patch of brood feathers, and sitting over us, she hummed out slow winding histories, or ballads of the afternoon, or long ancestral songs of nothing but names that repeated and trailed off and left me dreaming my baby bird dreams in a tree.

<break>

My Other woke me up for no reason—or the only reason—hunger. I found him ripping at the frayed weave of our nest’s inner bowl. He gulped on the air. "I’m hungry." He clicked against the waddle. "I’m hungry! I Am!" Me, too."

I looked up.

Above us, no mother.

No crow with worm in the sky.

Only emptiness.

Only a peaceable sun-filled blue. As if that were the sky’s natural state.

Then the sky sent a panic of bushtits our way, along with a lost little kinglet whose crest flared up into a red eye of agitation. He seemed even more lost, hanging on to the mixed flock. Their fleeing only excited my hungry brother. His eyes blinked, and his veins pulsed, and he flapped his naked elbows, ready to fly off to wherever small birds go. He wanted to eat them and become them and cry out their wee bird calls. There was no way he could have scared them, not with his round, splotched head much too big for him, wobbling around on a skinny neck without much control. His stomach was already engorged, but he kept stuffing it so that his twiggy legs could hardly lift him, which they did only so that he could get to the food before me. The points of our new pinfeathers did nothing to cover our gray and brown, liver-spotted skin. I laughed at the sight of him, but in pained recognition. Was I really just like him, so naked and helpless? No, worse. I was afraid of everything. A leaf blew past our nest and I shrieked and hid myself down in my own dung. But My Other saw it as an opportunity to fill his belly and raised his gaping beak to the sky, crying, "Me! Me! I Am!" as the leaf blew past, tumbling.

Then a disturbance took hold of the leaves.

The wind flew round in circles and gave no sign of going anywhere else. It grew in force until it shook the trees. They groaned. Their ancient arms whipped around in different directions, clacking against one another, making the sound of knocking antlers. Above us, the sky rolled up into a dark cloud mass and whispered along the limbs. Everywhere the wind said yes, first yes, then no, then yes and no in rankled argument with itself, pushing our tree as the sky and the leaves hissed.

A crow I’d never seen before hung onto the sky, blown sideways without making headway, calling, "Keeyaw! Keeyaw!" What? What do you see?" I asked.

Down in the familiar crags and burrows, I always asked my hungry brother what he saw. Because My Other was destined to be a crow of Pure Flight, at least in the eyes of our father. Already My Other could travel to the extremities of the nest and beyond, almost. He was an early hopper and climber and full of reckless curiosity as he teetered on the uppermost twigs of our nest. Above all things, our father valued this ability, as crows who possess it fly practically in legend. No other bird from our aerie had it. But My Other, he showed potential. What do you see now?"

The winds toppled him down beside me. Nothing," he said, kicking his claws to stand back up. "I was looking for Our Many through the trees." So was I." I hoped it was our mother who’d frightened off the flock, bringing us more good gorge and spittle. "What’s taking her?"

Excerpted from Song of the Crow, © 2006 Layne Maheu. Reprinted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved.

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