The first time I saw one, I was seven. That was the night the neighbor-girl Cindy died. We were friends.

It was summertime and the marsh was foggy and the frogs were all going at once, making an awful racket with their obnoxious noises.

I saw her go. She was holding his hand as he led her. Well past midnight, from my window, I’d watched the little boy, the Crow Boy, lead her away and down the sloping path through the cypress knees. Back into the sunken trees at the edge of our property. There was three crows circling them overhead. I knew she was gone before anyone told me she was. They told me my friend was dead the next day. I didn’t tell anyone about the Crow Children.

I don’t even know if that’s what they’re called, if they’re called anything at all.

The next time I saw one of them, I was 17. She was leading Jeremy from up the road. That was summertime too. I knew it was Jeremy because he was in some of my classes. I knew it was him because of his size. He was tall and big for 17. He wore a pair of swimming trunks. He wasn’t old enough yet, but he liked to have a few drinks and swim on the warm August nights. His daddy didn’t pay him no trouble about it on account of the football and him having good grades.

They must have met him in the pool; the girl and her crows. His hair was slick and wet but not just from pool water. While they walked, Jeremy swiped blood away from his eyes several times. He and she and the crows made their procession through our backyard to the marsh. A crow perched on his left shoulder would occasionally peck at him below the eye. Pecking at the blood. Jeremy didn’t seem to mind. It skittered between them, hopping down his arm and to peck at the inky black of the girl’s wet hair and then back up to his shoulder. Two others were with them. The one that led, would take flight for five or seven feet, land in the grass and look back at them to be sure they were keeping time. The third flew in slow figure eights behind.

They liked that path because it was well worn and when the moon was full, that part of the marsh would be bright while the rest of the world was dark. This was easier when leading new ones down, already confused and wary; this helped ease them. Down to the black waters and below to the mucky, algae and sand at the bottom.

The next summer they took Bobbie-Joe, she was 23; and the next one they took Elena. She was only five.

Later I realized in summertime it was happening all the time and it weren’t just children they were taking out there to meet the ‘gators and moccasins and the frogs. It was all kinds. My momma told me it takes all kinds to make a world. Same seems true for that sludgy world out there in the wetland. From what I can tell, it’s man and woman, young and old, black and white…the kids and their escort of crows is just the ones that come to show you the way down.

Sometimes I stand at the edge of the marsh in the summer. I don’t listen to them. I never listen to them and you shouldn’t neither if you see them. At the edge of the marsh, I can see some of them lyin on their stomachs. Faces in the mud. Some on their backs with their eyes full of black staring at the stars. Some have been out there so long, out there so deep, it’s just the tops of their dirty hair flitting heavily in the breeze or their toes if they’re flyin the other way. If you ever find yourself out here after dark, don’t look them in their black eyes. Not the crows, nor the children. Either can bewitch you if you do.

Sometimes they say things, these souls; these wretched drowned creatures. Whispers on black wings.

Elana fell off her daddy’s airboat. They never did find her. Bobbie-Joe got sad, stole some of her momma’s Ambien and laid down in the tub. Jeremy died in that pool he loved so much. Hit his head on the bottom, diving drunk. And I was seven and probably shouldn’t have, but I saw the story on the news: Cindy’s momma held her underwater in their kitchen sink, probably kicking and screaming until the water filled her lungs. Until she stopped breathin’ air.

Sometimes they say things, when no one’s around, these souls in the bog; a quiet croaking awful sound mixed in with the frogs. The voices of the crows. If you get too close to the water at night you’ll hear them softly as they grow. If your extra unlucky they’ll come and whisper hello in person from their own beaks. Don’t listen to what they say. Such awful things:

Come and fly.
Come and fly.
We’ll teach you how to fly.
You can live forever soarin’.
In the black, muddy sky.

Whatever you do,
Don’t look in their eyes.
Whatever you do,
Don’t hear their lies…
Whatever you do, don’t drown and die.
Especially not in summertime.
The Crow Children are why.
Because I’ve seen the spirits down there,

And I assure you that they don’t fly.

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