Darkness falls like a black curtain on the secluded town of Silverwood. There is no twilight, no magic hour. Particularly on this night. One moment a hazy, gray, pollen-thick sky blankets the town and surrounding woods, casting long shadows into the narrow alleyways and deep valleys. In the next moment streetlights blink on overhead, fireflies dancing their golden nighttime lullaby, and the woods grow as deep and dark as the depths of hell.
And all throughout, the reaping continues.
Now, hours after the darkness has engulfed the environs, the slaughter reaches a frenzied peak.
The crow, silent and dark and sleek, its brittle beak still stinging from its earlier assault on Carl Hendrix’s windshield, orbits the town proper in a wide, lazy circle before gliding to a stop on a telephone wire. From its lofty perch, the crow hears the annoying trill of a telephone ringing in the sheriff’s office. A muffled voice, edged with panic, answers the phone, speaks for a brief moment, and hangs up. The telephone begins to ring again almost immediately.
The crow’s beady black eyes dart to the north, where the orange glow of flames flickers along the horizon. Silverwood High School is located in that direction, as are St. Stephen’s Catholic Church and the YMCA.
The heavy wooden door marking the entrance to the Silverwood Tavern slams open, and a man runs outside into the street below. His flannel shirt is in tatters, and he is bleeding from the mouth and nose. He squeals in terror as two stocky women emerge from the tavern and chase after him down Main Street. One woman is brandishing a kitchen knife, the other a grease-stained spatula.
Just before they reach the intersection, a battered pickup truck skids around the corner at high speed. The front fender smashes into the fleeing man’s pelvis, nearly folding him in half like a beach chair, and then he is under the tires, the meaty thump of rubber on flesh and bone, followed by the wet crunch of the man’s head exploding like a ripe watermelon. The two women dive and roll to safety, one on each side of the oncoming truck, like a choreographed stunt from an action movie.
The truck roars on, no sign of a brake being touched, before it slams into the front façade of the Silverwood Savings and Loan. The pickup’s rusty hood crumples on impact, the driver—we recognize him now as Silverwood’s longtime postman, Dave Harry—hurtles through the windshield and splatters against the bank’s brick wall, leaving behind a bloody smear, and then the truck explodes with a loud, echoing whump.
The crow twitches its wings as a wave of scorching heat washes over it, but it remains perched on the wire, a silent sentinel to the encroaching madness. Its unblinking eyes reflect the burning truck—tiny orange jack-o’-lanterns glimmering in the smoke-filled night sky.
It’s only when sirens erupt in the distance that the crow takes flight, heading north to the spreading wall of flames, following the sound of gunshots and the dying town’s screams.
Carl crept to the top of the rocky hill, knees aching, nose running, and edged behind a tree. He peered around the side into the shadows, feeling the bite of rough bark against his cheek—and smiled. His prey, a middle-aged woman dressed in yoga pants and a bright red vest, stumbled down the trail. She was dripping water as if she’d recently fallen into a river. She was alone and whimpering. He smiled, amused by her attire. The red vest made him think of Star Trek’s red shirts—the nameless cast members who were always the first to die.
ALL YOURS, his God whispered in his ear. IT’S TIME TO SOW.
At first Carl had followed the sound of screams through the dark woods. But there had been too many, and coming from all directions, and he had gotten confused and lost. So he’d stopped and remained perfectly still, until his senses had zeroed in on the sobs and whimpers of one particular target. Then he’d tracked her to this section of the woods.
He carried a knife in each hand, a large butcher’s blade in his right, sharp and heavy enough to cut through flesh and bone, and a smaller but no less sharp hunting knife in his left. He had stuffed a flashlight in the back pocket of his jeans, but he didn’t want to use it unless he absolutely had to. He knew he was seeing with God’s eyes now, and much preferred the cover of darkness.
The woman stumbled closer.
Carl tensed—TIME TO SOW—and stepped onto the path, blocking her way.
“Little Red Riding Hood, I presume?” He grinned, sharpening the knives against each other.
The woman shrieked and turned to flee. She had taken no more than three or four steps when the hunting knife plunged into the center of her back. She dropped to her knees, gasping in pain.
“On your way to Grandmother’s house, no doubt.” Carl slid the knife out and...