The stone hit the last crow flying by. It fluttered to earth like a broken kite, its left wing bent at an odd angle. Stuart, stricken with guilt, rushed over to the fallen crow. The crow cawed, “No beauty killing me.” It closed its eyes and waited for Stuart to wring its neck.
Stuart carried the crow home and made a splint for its wing. He fed it grubs and worms, gave it water, carried it out to a clearing every day to let the wind stir its feathers. The bird did not die, but its wing never healed.
Stuart made a cage out of woven saplings. He hung it in the window frame of a broken window to let the crow watch leaves ruffle in a breeze, butterflies flitter, deer nibble, bears scratch their backs on tree bark, and the Dark Fairy to pass like a shadow between the gaps in the trees.
The crow learned to call Stuart by name. Stuart got used to hearing the bird chitter and caw and missed the noise when he left the hut to do chores. He began to carry the crow with him when he went deep into the woods to chop down dead trees. He sat the crow on a stump while he split cord wood. He let the crow perch on a shoulder when he bartered for food with a man who came every Tuesday to take the cord wood away. The crow had a sharp eye and a keen nose. It spotted and smelled the first signs of bread and meat going bad. Stuart always got a better deal when he took the crow’s advice.
Stuart rewarded the crow with the first taste of every meal. He stroked the short feathers on the bird’s neck. He wrapped a scrap of cloth over the crow when nights turned cold. Stuart loved it. The crow never looked away when a stray beam of light struck Stuart’s face.
Stuart called “Good morning!” every day as he rolled off his mattress. But one morning, the crow did not caw “Morning!” in return. Stuart found him lying at the bottom of his cage, his body stiff and cold. He tenderly lifted his friend and carried him to the clearing. He buried him in a spot where the wind always blew and the sun shone bright on clear days.
An ash tree had fallen near the edge of the clearing. Stuart chopped a thick branch off and carried it home. He carved the wood until he had shaped the rough form of a bird. He shaved and whittled until the wings, the feet, the neck, the tail and finally the head emerged. He smeared the carved crow with black paint made from ashes and grease. He set the effigy in the crow’s cage. He gave it a scrap of bread every day and talked to it whenever he felt lonely.