As the Crow Flies

📅 Published on August 15, 2021

“As the Crow Flies”

Written by Keith McDuffee
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 14 minutes

Rating: 6.00/10. From 2 votes.
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No coverage, not even one bar.  The battery was dead anyway.  It was still daytime, but it was overcast, and the sky had a perfectly even dullness so there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter.  A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest, if you wanted to get technical about it.  It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well.  What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills.  This had been happening more often lately.  Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.

Blame was a coat worn by the man behind the wheel more often than not.  Eyes from the passenger seat delivered daggers into him now.  Chuck felt them as though they were made of steel.  His hands draped over the upper edge of the windshield from the car’s open top.  Diane was thinking the same thing, he knew.  This, again, was his fault.  No getting out of it this time.  Though, with Diane, had he ever really gotten out of anything before?  The answer was no.  No, he had not.

As if to certify their situation, Diane held her phone’s screen up to Chuck.  It displayed a final red warning of low power, then winked off into darkness, showing only Chuck’s dejected reflection in its glassy-black surface.  He shrugged one shoulder and smirked the same side of his mouth, just as he’d always done either when feeling pretty pleased with himself or after royally screwing things up.  Diane pursed her lips and rolled her eyes without a smile, more for being disappointed in herself than for his repeated ineptitude.  It was clear now that backup would never come.

Metallic plinks and pops sounded from beneath the hood of the car, gasps of exhaustion from aging engine parts as they were permitted to cool from so many hours of exertion.  So many miles.  Had it been hundreds?  A thousand?  It certainly felt as many, and the knots within and sweat upon their backs said it all.  There hadn’t been a moment to stop, to not even consider it.  Even now it seemed foolish, but they had to be sure.  They had to stop and know for certain.

A close sound from their left changed Chuck’s expression sour.  He turned his head to the sole dead tree beside the road that had no business remaining upright.  Upon its dry, leafless branches, a pair of crows.  One of them gurgled and ruffled its feathers, as the two seemed to almost mimic the humans’  position and movements, cocking heads to one side, then another, eying the other pair with growing curiosity.

Where the crows remained indifferent to the humans, Chuck boiled with disgust.  Since he was a child, he’d disliked the beasts.  Carrion feeders.  Bringers of nightmares and bad omens.  Pets to the undead.  Pests to the living.  Down to their disgusting bird song, if you wanted to call it that, nothing about them was good.  “Dislike”  wasn’t quite the way Chuck felt about them now.  Hatred was a more accurate term.  They were, of all places, here and now.  Not at all a good sign.

As though sensing Chuck’s moment of distaste, the leftmost crow cawed, extended its black wings and took flight.  It descended upon something dead-center of the pavement a hundred meters or so down the road ahead of them: a lifeless rabbit or some other unfortunate, flattened creature, now a meal for one of the feathered beasts of the damned.

A cold, early spring breeze brushed across the El Dorado’s open top, carrying a few strands of Diane’s raven hair to rest upon the bridge of her nose, and, along with it, the sound once more of the Machine.  Both of the agents turned toward the trees — or forest or whatever you wanted to call it — up and behind them.  It was clear now where it was coming from.  Now they knew.  The Machine was moving again.

Just above the trees, they could see it now.  A minuscule black dot against the matte-gray, appearing high above the distant, swaying pines.  Its motors whined in protest as it worked to steady itself against increasing winds.  Just visible in the daylight were the lights of its bluish eyes: cameras, if you wanted to get technical about it.

The El Dorado’s engine gunned to life.  Diane hadn’t had time to settle herself back into the leather before Chuck’s hands fell to the steering wheel, the clutch released, and their cherry-red ride lurched forward and down the road, leaving behind white clouds of expended tires.  The distant motors behind them seemed to match their movement, screaming with acceleration and heated purpose.

Chuck’s eyes fell squarely upon the upturned rear-view mirror as he shifted into second, keeping the distant black and blue dot in sight.  Within heartbeats, the object left his view, the steering wheel suddenly pulling to the right, the car involuntarily veering in the same direction and onto the dirt shoulder.  The once feasting crow fluttered just over their heads and through the dust cloud around them, cawing in alarm.  As Chuck pulled back onto the pavement, he had time to catch sight of Diane’s retreating hand from the wheel.  Now it was her turn to feel daggers.

The car retained its distance from the Machine as they approached the hills, the road winding through them into territory of which they had no clue.  For Chuck and Diane, this was indeed new territory, at least in the current context.  Hundreds of miles upon a long, straight road had kept this separation between them and the Machine a comfortable assurance.  The serpentine length of pavement ahead was about to cut the feeling short in a most literal sense.

A tall hill of reddish-brown dirt and rock akin to a Martian landscape filled the rearview as the El Dorado swerved into the first bend.  Diane glanced behind them, then back to Chuck, her look confirming that they were now blind to the Machine’s whereabouts.  With each turn of the wheel, their safe distance dwindled.  Their time grew shorter.  The accelerator once again fell to the floor.

Rubber screamed in protest as the car took the next bend with little deceleration.  Only a half kilometer more came the next.  Then another, past a well-worn dirt road on the left.  The seemingly unending slaloming sapped precious distance away from the Machine with every turn.  Chuck began to think they may as well have stayed put where they were, let the thing approach them with ease and without resistance.  Lay back and let go.  Let the crows see their damning handiwork come to fruition, reflected in their dead, black eyes; then feast for days on the scattered aftermath, all amongst what would be a twisted ruin of cherry-red metal, alongside some godforsaken tree in the middle of nowhere, under a gray and lifeless sky.

Quitting hadn’t been an option before.  It hadn’t been close to consideration.  The Agency had a hand in putting such nonsense out of its members’  minds in a most effective manner.  There was keen encouragement on their part for seeing a job through.  Incentive was one way to put it.  Another was intimidation.  Threats.  Failure, as it turned out, was also not on the table.  But with nothing left for either of them out there at this point, what carrots were there left to dangle over their noses?  What blackmail mattered?  What was left to happen beyond…going to the beyond?  Not a God-damned thing.  Except he couldn’t do this to Diane.  He couldn’t do this to the El Dorado.

A hand on his shoulder turned Chuck’s attention off his thoughts and the road.  Diane extended a finger at something beyond the grit-streaked windshield, ahead and just before the next turn.  A dilapidated, wooden structure, its aged, weathered beams protesting under the weight of the hill above it.  Complete darkness yawned from within the tunnel it housed.  A mineshaft, long since abandoned in an age when things like the El Dorado — and most certainly the Machine – had no place.

The car’s wheel turned once more, out of the next turn and toward the tunnel’s gaping maw.  Though it was clear to be wide and tall enough to swallow even a commuter bus, the two agents braced themselves as the car fell out of the warm, muted sunlight and into the cold darkness.  Echoes of gunning eight cylinders pounded the stone walls before being joined by the sound of tires sliding to a stop along a dirt floor.  A click of a key being turned, then all but the metallic plinks and pops and nervous breath of two cautious bodies in the dark.  Not a move now.  Not another sound.  Just the wait.

How many minutes had navigating through the hills shaved off their lead?  Two?  Ten?  Even seconds mattered — they knew this — and yet they had felt the need to stop and find out just far ahead of the thing they’d come.  It was that or run forever, not once turning back until either fuel had run out or something else entirely had taken them out instead.

Both agents turned back toward the diluted light streaming from the rectangular tunnel entrance.  Tiny motes gave substance to the sunbeams, twinkling in the stale air like so many fireflies in a summer night sky.  By their angle, it was close to noon, and the cloud cover had begun to dissipate.  This was good.  Knowing the sun’s position meant they’d know which direction to turn.  For all they knew, these hellish hills brought them even further from where they needed to be.  In the short term, however, that place was away from Them.  Away from the Machine.

An immense shadow swept along the ground outside, carried along by the chainsaw-like sounds they’d heard so many times before.  Only now, as the thing grew closer, its sounds grew more intense and defined.  Its metallic rotors whistled and cut the mid-day air like giant scimitars.  Though it still kept itself high above the hills, a downward-beaten wind cast a whirlwind of sand beneath its path.  Chuck and Diane shielded their eyes from the blast brought into the tunnel.  As quickly as the Machine had come, it was gone, its sounds echoing against the surrounding landscape and dwindling to silence.

Chuck grasped the car key, still in the ignition, but Diane seized his hand and gave him a look of exasperation.  She had wanted to think he knew better than to be so quick to assume anything these past few days.  Though disappointed in herself at the thought, she felt relieved in not assuming anything about Chuck’s better judgment at the moment.  She nodded her head toward the tunnel’s opening, then released her partner’s hand and slid out of the car, over the passenger-side door.

On any other excursion like this, taking a weapon would have been a good idea, but here they’d become as useless as their now powerless phones.  No ammunition.  No juice.  All expended in vain, modifying each of their holstered pieces and the small arsenal in the trunk of the El Dorado into pricey paperweights.  Even with bullets, they’d been just as effective.  The Machines, as they’d learned, were not vulnerable from below.  So far, only running seemed to work.  Now that was being called to question.

Diane shielded her eyes as she angled her head out into the sunlight, peering up into the brightening sky.  A line of cloud cover stretched into the distance, cutting the sky in half at its seam.  A breath of wind carried with it more unsettled dust, along with the distant cry of the now airborne crows.  Of the Machine, there was not a whisper.

She wasted no time in trotting back to the car, leaping back into the passenger seat, and giving Chuck an affirmative nod.  The car once again rumbled to life, its ignited roar near deafening within the confines of their dark refuge.  Chuck backed out of the narrow opening with precision, the El Dorado exiting from within the blanket of a white veil of dirt and spent fuel, like a bullet from one of their useless guns.  It squealed as it came to a stop on the pavement, then again as the gears ground forward.  The car remained there, stationary within the dissipating cloud, as its occupants contemplated the next move in silence and haste.  Chuck once again brought the pedal down and turned the El Dorado back up the road from whence they’d come moments before.

Retaining their previous heading felt akin to leading a lamb to slaughter.  Back through the forest?  No chance.  It’s how they got lost in the first place, and it only brought them closer to the place they’d been trying to distance themselves from these past many hours.  The dirt road they’d passed just down the road.  It’s all that made sense.

The wheels hit the dirt road within only a few minutes, and only moments later did Diane realize their potentially grave error.  As the car accelerated through the hills, back out into the open and along a straight route, soil became airborne and highlighted their passage like a signal fire.  It was only a matter of time before someone would see.  Before It would see.  They had to move fast, signal fire be-damned.

Chuck’s mind, though, was not with Diane’s.  What had it been?  Five years now?  No, just four.  Four years on the job.  Four years he’d sat pilot-to-navigator with Diane, in automobiles of all makes, models, and years.  Though no job was ever the same, there were several constants they’d both come to realize.  One was that Chuck’s tendency for getting lost was getting worse.  Another was that neither one of them knew to keep a cell phone charger on their person at all times.  Most importantly — and in a most positive sense — Chuck never, ever, let the El Dorado’s tank run dry.  Chuck quietly witnessed one of those constants becoming very much a variable in a most negative sense.

The fuel needle flirted with the letter E.  Diane gasped and stood in her seat before Chuck could voice this most disappointing discovery.  He turned to see what had caught her attention.  Far in the distance, he could see it too.  A building.  Not just a building — buildings.  A town.  A real, honest-to-God, holy-moly-on-a-cannoli town.  Towns might have people.  Power.  A God-damned telephone.  Gasoline.

As though sensing Chuck’s next thought, Diane turned behind them, toward the receding hills.  She took a moment to scan them, one hand serving as a visor from the sun directly overhead.  She fell back into the seat, sighed, and shook her head.  For now, it appeared, they were in the clear, and the road ahead was a long and straight one.

Minutes later, the El Dorado slowed to a trot, and the air of positivity within the car was gone.  It was an exaggeration to call the the first structures they encountered buildings.  Those lining the town’s outskirts stood as blackened husks of charred timber, having long ago succumbed to ravaging fires.  No higher than two stories tall, their foundationless frames stood awkward and roofless, a wonder to be standing at all.  The wreckage was of a lesser degree as they continued along the lifeless road.

The town appeared to be quite large for the desolate area the agents found themselves in.  Deserted shops lined the main road they traversed; their display windows left glassless and empty but for the remnants of charred shelving.  Further on were fewer blackened facades, though their condition was little improved.

The sight was nothing new to the agents.  They’d rolled through two others in worse condition only days before.  There’d been nothing left but heaps of smoking ash.  Not just of buildings and houses.  There’d been people.  Piles upon piles of them, amassed together, rounded up before meeting their end.  No one witnessing the other’s demise.  All for one and one for all, gone in one massively efficient flash.

As they passed by one grouping of storefronts left remarkably intact, Chuck stopped the car and cut the engine.  Before Diane could question the move, she’d spotted it too.  Within the doorway of one shop lay the body of a man, his upper half sprawled out onto the sidewalk.  Another pair of crows perched on his back, one picking at something beneath tattered clothes.  The body’s condition said it all: this was recent.  This could have happened mere days ago.  By all rights, it could have happened today.

Chuck hadn’t considered what might have killed the man before the agent flung himself out of the car and hurried toward the corpse.  The crows scattered at the sound of his hurrying footsteps.  Diane restrained herself from protesting, as she knew the fruitless yelling would serve only to further announce their presence to whoever or whatever was within earshot.

It wasn’t the body that most interested Chuck, at least not at that moment.  It was the shop itself and what it could — and most certainly at one time had — contain within.  The dirtied, lopsided sign hanging from the ajar door said it all: Big Sal’s Electronics & More.  Cellphones.  Batteries.  Chargers.  He couldn’t give a piss about what “More”  there might be than that.

Inside, there were no cellphones.  No batteries.  No chargers.  Just “More”  nothing, other than bare shelving long-since looted and mangled, and the poor sap lying face down in the doorway, with a hole through his skull.  What was his story?  Had he been attempting to get some morsels for himself, crossing paths with other looters who had no concept or interest in sharing spoils?  Had he walked in for help, only to meet Big Sal and his most unhelpful Glock?  Was this Big Sal?

Chuck dropped to one knee and turned the body over.  It didn’t take much effort.  Whoever it was couldn’t have weighed more than one-twenty, with unnaturally emaciated features that spelled out a story of long-term hunger, exhaustion, and misery.  If this was the former shop owner, his moniker certainly didn’t fit.  Not anymore.  His clothing fell loose about his body, flopping onto the sidewalk like a half-empty sack of rice.  The man’s torso was entirely painted in still-congealing blood, a result of the massive exit wound in the face.  He’d gotten it in the back, and by the sight of it, not long ago.

Something clattered to the ground, falling between Chuck’s legs.  He repositioned himself to see what it was, and right then and there everything he’d hoped for and risked in leaving the car for a small piece of wishful thinking had come to fruition.  A cellphone.  The green light from a portable battery charger, connected to the cellphone, glowed green.

Chuck scooped up the phone and its connected charger.  Rising to his feet and calling out to his partner, he was surprised to find his words swallowed up whole by a familiar, overbearing sound.  Diane was out of the car now, shouting something and waving her arms, her own voice muffled by the deafening sounds of machinery overhead.  It had found them.

Diane plowed into Chuck, sending them both tumbling into the open doorway of the store.  Outside, the sidewalk lit up in a blinding blaze of white light and flames, just where Chuck had stood — just where Little-Big Sal had lain.  The resulting heat sent a gust of putrid air through the opening, and with it small embers of glowing pavement and scorched cadaver.

The two hurried to their feet and distanced themselves from the doorway, stumbling over upturned shelving and piles of discarded packaging long-since relieved of their contents by looters.  A dense, torrid wind exhaled in from behind them, as the sound of the Machine grew ever louder, lower, closer, carrying with it the overwhelming stench of charred flesh and asphalt.  It would be on them in seconds.

Diane shouted something to Chuck, her face dressed red with intensity, determination, and fear.  Against the sound of the Machine and of the ringing in his ears, she may as well have been whispering.  She did not wait for a response.  She pulled him along by his arm as she retreated into the last few meters of the store, then shouldered through a door with every gram of their combined weight.  It crashed open with little effort, the jamb dismantled into long splinters.

Wasting little momentum and taking little notice of their surroundings, the agents tore down the narrow back alley, vaulting mounds of uncollected refuse, demolished building debris, and the occasional human body.  They had no time to pay them any mind at all.  For now, their only concern was for themselves.

The sound of the Machine had dwindled some, but there was little doubt it had seen where they’d gone.  Though their exposure was lessened, there was no longer protection overhead.  Once again, the Machine’s readings would register true, its altitude would be regained, and a lock would be achieved.  One shot; two piles of ash.

The alley seemed to stretch on for another hundred meters or so, then turned once left, then right, then left again.  They began to feel trapped, as would two mice in a narrow maze.  Diane continued to lead the way, disappearing around the corner where the alley seemed to widen and leaving Chuck several paces behind.  Ahead of him, Diane broke into the open street ahead, where she froze in her tracks.  He supposed she saw It, and It saw her.  Though she looked all about her, she did not look up.

Chuck was at full sprint and just about to the street when she saw Diane begin to raise her hands, and then the mass of people surrounding her, their guns raised.  He felt there was no point in not matching Diane’s pose of surrender, as the tattered crowd glared not with hostility but a sort of mild sense of unease.

One of Chuck’s raised hands carefully pointed skyward, behind the congregation and just above the El Dorado in the distance.  Most turned as the air once again became blanketed in a whirlwind of dust and debris, accompanied by the grating otherworldly sounds of the Machine’s rotating blades.

The agents were no longer of interest to the throng about them.  The expressions worn amongst them all — agents and townsfolk alike — told of a shared familiarity and helplessness.  Time felt irrelevant and still.  The agents.  The people.  The Thing in the near-noon sky.  Those on the ground felt transfixed and exposed, while the Machine seemed to daze them all, choosing its most logical, initial targets with its luminous, hateful, cerulean eyes.  Chuck and Diane closed their own eyes, resigning themselves to let it come.  They were ready for it all to be over.

From beyond the darkness of their closed eyelids, another terrible sound filled the air.  Loathsome warbles.  Horrendous, beastly cries.  A pair of darting, dark shadows above, then a blinding burst of red and yellow flames.  Unholy machinery grinding and ceasing, tearing downward and onto the open road to meet a dazzling, fiery end.  Silence, then, but for the crackling of the heap once called a Machine.  The threat to them all, for now, was gone.  Chuck shrugged one shoulder and smirked.

They made their way through the crowd and back to the El Dorado.  And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them.  They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them.  Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it.  The first crow squawked, and then both flew away.  They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the El Dorado.  Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery.

Rating: 6.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Keith McDuffee
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Keith McDuffee


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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