She's in my voice, in all I do!
Her poison flows in all my veins!
I am the looking-glass of pain
Where she regards herself, the shrew!
- Charles Baudelaire, The Self-Tormenter
Although Jonathan had to be careful about Ulysses, he was old enough and cunning enough that he could keep it hidden from Gran. He didn't understand all of it, but he liked the book's writing style, and read it any time he could find some peace and quiet. Such times were increasingly rare. He wanted to snatch a few minutes' reading time before school, but Gran was growing old and sick, and so there he was tending the fields again. He didn't like it. The flies were especially bad that day, and Jonathan suspected that they had developed quite the taste for his blood. They never seemed to bite Gran.
As he worked, she sat in an old wooden lawn chair and drank from a cup of water, shaded under a ragged parasol. While the heat wasn't as overbearing as it was during the summer, Jonathan felt very ill about thirty minutes in, and it took every ounce of strength in his small body to keep from collapsing. Not even his panting and sweat convinced her that he needed a break from work, and he became increasingly afraid that he would die of heatstroke. He would have asked if he could have a turn to rest under the umbrella, but he didn't dare. Besides which, he hadn't had a sip of water since he woke up. His tongue felt like it was about to shrivel up and fall out of his dry mouth.
"Gran?" he asked after a few moments, wiping the sweat from his damp forehead. "I have a question."
"What is it, boy?" Mary Keeny looked none too pleased to see Jonathan stop work. "Make this quick. The fields must be tilled before school begins."
Jonathan gave a weak smile, although inside he was trembling. He knew how careful he would have to be. "You know that next week is Halloween, Gran. Everyone in town will be out dressing up and eating candy, and I'd like to join them. They're having fun."
Gran rolled her eyes at her great-grandson's request, and Jonathan kicked the dirt in frustration. He should have known she wouldn't let him go. "Halloween. The night of the Devil. I should have guessed the idea of running around Arlen in a Satanic costume with your friends would appeal to you. Dressed up as little demons, giving old ladies strokes, or maybe dealing in petty vandalism like that Dunstan brat."
Jonathan knew what Gran was talking about. Last Halloween, George Dunstan, another Chickenhawk and one of Bo's more rowdy friends, had draped toilet paper all over an elderly neighbor's house as a prank. He never admitted it to the adults, but everyone in town knew who did it, including his parents. It was the talk of Arlen for weeks. Crane, of course, had no intention of doing this, and told Gran as much.
"You don't have to worry about that, Gran," said Jonathan. "I don't have anyone to go around with. I won't cause any trouble, if that's what you're worried about. All I want is a little candy to eat. All the other kids are doing it."
"You talk as if I don't feed you, boy." Jonathan, who had a hollow pit in his stomach where his breakfast should have been, could have argued that much. Gran, however, sipped her drink and stood up, watching him sternly. "Besides, we can't afford a costume. There are more important things for us to do. Get back to work." Satisfied with her argument, she leaned back in her chair.
"I don't need to pay for the food," Jonathan replied, laying aside his hoe and for once holding his ground. "If you get me a costume, I'll share my candy with you. Come on, Gran." His hunger and parched throat only added to his growing frustration. "Maybe we could pray to God for money." He only realized what he had just said when it was already out of his mouth.
Gran stood up, Jonathan instinctively shrinking back from the rage clear on her face. He had pushed his luck too far. He would be lucky if he got out of this one without being sent to the chapel after school, let alone being kept in the manor on Halloween night. He hadn't seen Gran this angry for days. She took her religion very seriously, and he was sure that mentioning God had done it.
"You greedy child! We are a proud family and live on what the Lord has seen fit to give us." Gran's voice rose to a screech. Crane was increasingly sure that he'd blown his chance for any candy in a week's time. He began to regret that he had spoken up.
He hung his head, trying his best to look sorry, and picked up the hoe to get back to work. He looked up, seeing the ragged form of the family scarecrow against the sun, its stitched face seeming to laugh at the boy. Just seeing it made Jonathan furious. He wanted to grab a stone and throw it at the burlap figure, or tear it to pieces with his bare hands. Anything to get rid of that face!
"Do you hear me, Jonathan?" Gran's harsh voice jolted Crane back to his senses. Maybe it wasn't too late to try and patch up his mistake.
"Sorry, Gran," he said, although he was lying through his teeth. He wasn't the least bit sorry for what he had said. If he had been completely honest, he would have asked for a little water, a few minutes' rest under the parasol, a decent costume, and a bellyful of candy on Halloween night. However, he knew better than to try Gran's patience any longer. With a sigh, he picked up the hoe and returned to work. He could dream, at least.
When Gran was satisfied with the fields, Jonathan was all too happy to drop the hoe and dart indoors to change into his school clothes and grab his satchel. First, he made sure to visit his room and pick up his copy of Ulysses. He wanted to keep Gran from finding the book, so he secretly hid it in his satchel and closed it up tight. After quickly checking that it couldn't be seen, he waved a rushed good-bye to Gran in her chair and ran up the path to school. She didn't even look up, but he hadn't expected her to.
He was actually relieved. As cruel as his schoolmates could be, at least he could expect something to drink at Arlen High.
The first thing he did on getting there, via his usual route close to the apple tree, was find a water fountain and take a good long, cool drink. The water tasted faintly of chlorine, but he was too thirsty to care. He wiped it from his face and went to class, feeling only slightly better.
When he was under the watchful eyes of his teachers in the classroom, Jonathan's schooldays usually went by with relatively little trouble. He got high scores, particularly in his English and science courses, easily the top student in both classes. This didn't help his already-present reputation as a nerd and a freak. As for the hallway, he would make his way from class to class as quickly as he could, trying not to attract the attention of any bullies.
While he tried his best to ignore the whispers in the hall as he passed by, Jonathan couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy when he saw Arlen High's glass trophy cabinet, each cup and medal sorted by date and cleaned until it shone. Above it, a red-and-brown banner congratulated the football team for their three-year record, decorated by Arlen High's mascot, a light gray cartoon hawk kicking a football. Football was one of the most important things for the students of Arlen High, if not the most important thing. Jonathan, as far as he knew, was the only exception. He focused on his classwork, which is what he thought school was for in the first place.
As a reward for all his hard work and good grades, he would most likely make honor roll for his first semester. Not that anyone would care, of course - they would be too busy cheering on Jackie and his crew of helmeted thugs. Jackie boasted that, under his leadership, the Chickenhawks would make it to the championship for their fourth year, a record for the school. A great deal of expectations were placed on him, and he was all to happy to glory in them for all they were worth.
Over the next few weeks, everything at Arlen High would center around Jackie Grey and that stupid football game. There would be events where Jonathan would be expected to cheer for the same boys who tortured him for fun. It made him sick to his stomach, so sick that he could barely bring himself to pick at his lunch. He didn't care much for school milk and mashed potatoes, anyway.
During fourth period, the English teacher handed his students their new reading books before the announcer came on the school's PA system, instructing all of the students to go to the gymnasium. It was a pep rally. Jonathan hated pep rallies - they were loud, obnoxious, and disrupted class time.
He knew what was going on, too. The Chickenhawks had a big game coming up against the Latham High Grizzlies after Halloween, and the school athletes were reveling in it. Jonathan didn't especially care. In fact, part of him wanted to come to the game and cheer for the Grizzlies, just to spite Jackie and Bo. If he did that, of course, they would murder him. As a bit of small revenge against the jocks, he decided to skip the pep rally. Instead he spent the whole of fourth period alone in his English classroom reading James Joyce. He considered it an act of rebellion.
When the bell rang for the end of the day, Jonathan retreated into an empty chemistry classroom to escape the students stampeding out of the gym. Before he set off to go himself, he checked his things to make sure that his books were all there. His textbooks were safe, and he had his required reading for Honors English. He scanned its title - Lord of the Flies. How appropriate.
Underneath them, hidden deep in his satchel, was his secret copy of Ulysses. Before going home, he would try to get some reading done. He owed himself the pleasure.
Some distance from the main building, there was a small, grassy hill with a tree growing on it. He sprang onto it, scrunching himself up against the tree's bark and watching the other children wander around. Although he didn't know most of them, he recognized Sherry chatting with Charlene Connors as both of them got on the bus. Bo was there, talking to Sherry, while Charlene was with Brad Simmons, now her boyfriend and Bo's friendly rival on the football team. Their presence kept Crane from approaching Sherry. So much for his plan.
Jonathan, trying not to draw attention to himself, curled up to bury his face in Ulysses. Knowing Bo's gang, the other boys were out looking for him. Maybe, if he hid well enough, Jonathan could get away without a beating.
"Look! He's right where I said he'd be! If it ain't Scarecrow Crane, in the flesh!" Jonathan knew the voice. It was Jackie Grey, team captain of the Arlen High Chickenhawks, in his usual black T-shirt and blue jeans, leading George Dunstan and Jason Bludhorn over to Crane's tree. Although more lightly built than the other two boys, Jackie was stronger than he looked, and Crane knew better than to pick a fight with him. Crane pretended not to notice them, but all the while tensed his muscles for the inevitable run.
"Hey! Scarecrow! Punk!" Jason spoke this time, slamming a fist into his open hand. "Not nice to ignore people."
"We noticed you didn't come to the pep rally today," George said. "We don't like it when people skip pep rallies. Where's your school spirit, Scarecrow?"
Jonathan had to admit that he was good and trapped. Even if he ran away, the three boys were both stronger and faster. They would catch him with little trouble. Chances were that they would beat him harder then. Fighting them would be an even worse idea, as he was outnumbered by three to one. There wasn't really a way to escape unless he could talk his way out.
Jason laughed when he saw Ulysses clutched to Jonathan's skinny chest. "I think that's a new book he's got! Look at the size of that thing!"
"Go away, Jason," Jonathan said, his voice quiet but angry as he closed his book. "I'm not bothering you. Let me read in peace."
"What is that, anyway?" Jackie came to the front, grabbing the book out of Crane's hands and letting it dangle open. Jonathan cringed as he watched. He hated it when they damaged his books to begin with, and the Joyce was worth a respectable fee.
"None of your business," Jonathan replied, starting to stand. "Give it back!" Before he could make a grab for the book, Jason slugged him in the stomach and he fell, winded. As Jackie pretended to read, George and Jason attacked Jonathan, slamming the boy to the ground and repeatedly kicking him.
"He's so skinny," George said with a nasty laugh. "I can feel his bones. So that's why they call him Scarecrow!"
Jonathan, clutching his ribs, struggled to breathe as Jackie showed Jason the book. "Ulysses, huh? Ain't that a TV show? It had six-headed monsters and witches and stuff. 'Course, I doubt a weirdo like you has a TV."
"No, that's the Odyssey, by Homer. This one's by James Joyce. Different people." Jonathan got to a sitting position, his body aching with what would be bruises in a few minutes. "Not that I'd expect you to know that," he said under his breath. "Now, please give it back and I won't tell."
George nudged Crane with his foot as a warning. "Shut it, Scarecrow, unless you want more kickin'. You don't, do you?" Jonathan shook his head, eyes wide and terrified. "Good. You aren't as dumb as you look."
Jonathan was about to remark that he wasn't the stupid one, but remembered the hard shoes in his side and shut up. All he wanted was to get out, hopefully with the book.
"What kinda stupid name is James Joyce?" Jason shook his head. "'Not surprised you like him. Your name's stupider than his." He jammed a foot into Jonathan, making the smaller boy fall on his back before Jason planted a foot on his belly to hold him down. "How 'bout we make a deal with him, Jackie?"
Although he tried to complain, the foot on Jonathan's stomach hurt him so much that he could barely move. He blinked when he saw Jackie smile. George and Jason made Crane get up, folding his arms behind his back. He cried out, unable to hold in the pain for any longer.
"Great idea. All right, Scarecrow." Jackie folded his arms and smirked. Jonathan didn't say anything, his head bowed. "Look at me when I'm talking to you. That's better. Now, I'm a nice guy. I'll make a deal. Either you stay here with us or we tear up your stupid book."
Jonathan didn't speak, but he could feel his throat constrict. It wasn't much of a choice. He would take any chance to get away, and would have sacrificed one of his own books to do so, but the Joyce wasn't his to give up. He looked at Ulysses, dangling from Jackie's hand, its pages fluttering in the breeze. He thought about the bruises he already had and the others that would come his way.
"Come on. We don't have all day. Pick, you little idiot! Now!"
"How about we pick for him?" Jason pulled a match from his pocket, followed by a small white box.
Jonathan realized what they wanted to do and started to struggle, George holding him tight as Jason lit the match. Jackie took it and showed it to Crane, his smile vicious. "You know what this is, right, Scarecrow?"
Crane would have lunged if Jason and George hadn't been holding him fast. "No! Please! Let me go!"
"All right, we'll burn your stupid book instead." Jackie held the match dangerously close to the book, and Crane panicked.
"No!" He tried to worm his way out of their grip, but the boys were too strong. "Put it down! Anything but that!"
Jackie, still smiling, lowered the match. "Anything? All right, then. George, Jason, the scarecrow's made his pick. It'll be him."
"No! Please!" Jonathan fought as Jackie grabbed a hand, choosing a finger and holding the match so close that the other boy could feel the heat. The four of them were alone in the schoolyard by then, and no one heard Jonathan's screams.
If Gran noticed the fresh burn marks under Jonathan Crane's nails and between his fingers, she didn't say anything about them. As soon as she went for her afternoon nap, Jonathan quickly ran upstairs to check on his book. His hands still stung in the places where Jackie had applied the matches, but he was still alive, and Ulysses was in good shape, considering what had been done to it. It could have been a lot worse. He wasn't in the mood to read, as he was tired and hurt. All he wanted to do was sleep.
Before crawling into bed, he slipped Ulysses into its usual spot, although this time he forgot to cover it with the blanket. His body ached all over, making it difficult for him to concentrate on anything. Jonathan grabbed a frilly white pillow and curled up, trying not to think of the pain. Gran had medicine and bandages somewhere, no doubt, but she would just tell him that suffering was God's way of making him strong. He would feel better when he woke up.
He didn't dream, at least not one that he remembered. This was a good thing, as his dreams were very rarely pleasant ones. Gran filled his brain with nightmares of the chapel: black feathers, cold dark eyes, and jabbing beaks. Getting up was even more of a relief for him, even when it was Gran's screeching that roused him. Blinking the last bits of sleep out of his eyes, Jonathan came downstairs for supper. He was still only partly awake, and didn't notice that the book hidden under his bed was gone.
Gran seemed unusually irritable at dinner. While she didn't speak, her beady eyes were fixed on Crane all through the meal. It was some kind of vegetable broth. Jonathan sampled it with his spoon, shivering with disgust. It tasted terrible, almost too cold to eat. He knew that Gran had deliberately left it to cool, and it was a household rule that he finish every last bite before leaving the table. This was a punishment of some kind. However, the fact that Jonathan didn't know what he was being punished for made it even worse.
After he managed to choke down a good amount of the cold broth, Gran finally decided to explain herself. "You thought you could get away with lying to me, Jonathan? You know the rules of this house."
"Of course not," Jonathan replied, still holding a spoonful of food. "I'm not hiding anything from you."
That was a mistake. She looked up, her own blue eyes hard and cold, and Jonathan shrank back in his chair, a huge red velvet thing that made him feel small and defenseless. She didn't have to say a word. He knew that she wasn't fooled by his weak lie.
"Today I cleaned your room while you were sleeping after school and made a most interesting discovery. It was hidden rather poorly under your bed." Gran produced an all-too-familiar brown book, slightly damaged from being dangled open earlier in the day. Ulysses. "Do you know what this is, Jonathan?"
Jonathan knew that he was in bad trouble. If it had been Lord of the Flies, he could have explained it away as a book that he needed for school, but he couldn't do the same for the Joyce. Gran didn't know about his secret visits to the town library, and if she found out about them he wouldn't ever be able to come back. He would do whatever it took to protect that secret.
"Don't play dumb, boy. I know what this book is. In my day this trash was banned, as it still should be. You must have found such pleasure in this book, yes? Reading all the dirty bits, fouling your sheets at night when you thought I wasn't there to see." Jonathan had done no such thing, of course, and his voice quivered when he spoke in his own defense.
"Please, Gran, I didn't. It's only a book, not trash. It's actually very good. You should read it yourself, give it a fair chance." Her expression didn't change, and Jonathan realized the full consequences of what he had done. He would be lucky if Ulysses ever made it back to the library.
"Where did you find it? Tell me, boy! The complete truth!"
Her voice made Jonathan cringe, but he straightened. He had no choice but to lie if he wanted to save the book and his trips to the library. After years of living with Gran, he knew the kind of lie that she would believe.
"I went upstairs, while you were taking your nap, and went into the room behind the closed doors. I was bored and was looking for something to read. It was lying on one of the shelves, and I got curious and took it. I only wanted to borrow it for a week or two. I would've given it back, I promise." Since Jonathan had never actually entered the room, a lot of his description was guesswork. He hoped that it was accurate enough.
Gran's eyes narrowed. "You are forbidden to enter that room, boy, and you know that as well as I do."
Jonathan realized that, while she believed his lie, he may have made things even worse for himself. "I understand. Please, Gran, I'm sorry. I won't do it again, I promise!"
"I'll see to it that you don't." Gran looked up to the heavens in despair. "You are an incorrigible child, Jonathan. You remind me of your mother. Sinful. Lazy. Obsessed with filth."
While Jonathan knew very little about his mother, Karen Keeny, he had learned enough through town gossip to know that Gran hated her granddaughter. Karen had a reputation for short, casual relationships with visiting men. Jonathan's father was presumably one of these men, although the boy knew even less about him. All he knew was that his father had left Georgia back when Jonathan was only a baby.
"My mother?" he asked, curious. "What was wrong with her?"
"She was nothing but lying, slutty filth. Always having relations with strange men. That's where you came from, boy, one of her precious one-night stands. A local sailor whose own family turned him out for his sinful ways. When you were born, she couldn't love you. She could barely stand to look at you. She gave you up, and I took you in out of Christian charity. Some days I wonder why I bothered." Gran put her dish away, standing. "No more wasting time, Jonathan. You know the punishment for going in the forbidden room."
Jonathan did, and he dreaded it. However, to admit to his lie would make things even worse, as Gran hated liars. He nodded silently, accepting the punishment, even though his heart pounded and his stomach churned, both from fear and the disgusting meal he had eaten. By this point Ulysses was as good as gone. Getting the book back was the least of his concerns.
"I think, boy, that it's time you spent the night in the family chapel. Remember to wear the proper clothing. Go upstairs, find your Sunday suit, and put it on before you come back." Gran, revulsion clear on her face, made a dismissive gesture.
As soon as she finished speaking, Jonathan scampered up the steps, opening his closet and finding the suit he usually wore for Sunday services. He hated it. He would have hated it even if he didn't associate it with the chapel. It looked like a miniature tuxedo, very tight and close to his skin, and he preferred loose-fitting clothes. All the same, Gran wanted him to wear the Sunday suit, and he had no choice.
Besides being frightened, Crane didn't understand everything Gran had said about his mother. She must have been right that Karen had never loved him. She wouldn't have given him up if she had. However, he was too worried to think about the question any more, hands sweating and breathing quickened. There was no way out this time. Like in the confrontation with the three Chickenhawks at school, he was caught.
He came downstairs as slowly as possible, hands clenched. The most he could hope for was that the punishment ended quickly. "Here I am, Gran," he said, his voice shaking. As soon as his feet touched the floor she was upon him, grabbing his ear and yanking it hard. Although he wanted to, Jonathan managed not to cry out. She gripped his arm, surprisingly strong for an arthritic old woman, and pulled him out the door.
It was a cool night, with a full moon, and at any other time Jonathan would have enjoyed the peace and quiet. He liked to visit the garden when Gran was out, relaxing beside a tree with one of his books, but always stayed away from the old chapel. Now, with Gran gripping his arm so tightly that it hurt and the very same chapel looming up ahead, Jonathan found it impossible to feel anything besides utter fear.
"You know why you're coming here, don't you?" Jonathan tried to reply, but he was unable to say anything. His tongue seemed to swell up in his mouth. "I've warned you to keep your prying nose away from that room, Jonathan."
Gran yanked his ear again. "Don't question me, boy! Just do as you're told!"
Jonathan finally managed a weak nod. "Gran," he said, "I just saw the book lying there and I was curious. I swear, I didn't look at anything else."
"Such a filthy little liar you are! You are your parents' son, no question of that. Lies are the stuff of the Devil himself, boy, and your fouled tongue must be cleansed before you come back to the house."
"We were talking about our family. Tell me more about them before you send me in." Jonathan knew that the chapel was inevitable, but he would hold it off if he could. He knew that appealing to Gran's sense of family pride might buy him some time if she went off on one of her rants. "Please."
Gran paused for a moment, the boy trembling and desperate in her grasp. "Fine, if it keeps you from repeating their mistakes. What do you want to know now, boy?"
Jonathan thought fast. "Tell me about my family. What's wrong with my parents? Why do we have a chapel?"
"My parents built it," Gran said, Jonathan pretending to listen attentively. However, her hand remained on Jonathan's arm in case the child tried to break free and run. "Father made our family rich, and Mother wanted a chapel to show it. Father dreamed of an aviary, however. He loved birds, more than he loved his own children, and he demanded them. Fancied himself a collector. They compromised. An aviary it was, while she insisted on holding our Sunday sermons there. We weren't the only family who used the chapel. I remember going inside as a girl." Jonathan knew this part of the story well. There was a framed black-and-white photograph of the Keeny aviary hanging up in the living room. Despite his fear of it, he had to agree with Gran that it had looked beautiful back then. "We were the envy of our neighbors. Father loved showing off his pets. He spent hours with the parrots alone, hand-feeding them and teaching them to talk."
Jonathan could see the chapel now. It was now a dying place, the stained glass windows all broken long ago and ivy creeping across its stones as if to slowly suffocate the old building. He was surprised that it hadn't fallen to pieces before he was born. It looked like it was about to collapse. Slowly, but surely, the last sign of the Keenys' glory days was falling apart. Gran hadn't taken any steps to preserve or care for the chapel, for all her nostalgia, and didn't bother to clean it. Whenever he walked in the garden, Jonathan would watch his step for shards of colored glass. He had cut himself more than once.
There were no birds there now except for the crows who nested there at night. Apart from their calls, the old chapel was silent and lifeless. Even when he was safe from punishment, Jonathan avoided it like death. He had an instinctive fear of it after fourteen years, and with good reason. By now Gran was rambling. Jonathan was only partly listening. He was genuinely interested, but too frightened to give the story his full attention.
"And people came! Father's aviary was the glory of Georgia, and he relished that. He doted on his pets: feeding them, teaching them, loving them. Some of them were like children to him - more than his own son and daughter." Gran, not pausing from the story, began fiddling with the old chapel's wooden door. She, as Jonathan knew, kept the key with her day and night. He tensed, waiting. This wasn't the worst part of the punishment, not yet, and he wouldn't let his guard drop. "Father would go into the aviary and train the birds to do tricks for us and for visitors. His favorites were the parrots, of course, but I loved the birds of paradise best. They reminded me of Heaven's angels, guardians of our family."
On the last word, she swung the door open, and in a single sudden movement flung Jonathan inside as he protested. She had been distracting him.
"No! Please! I'll never do it again!"
His pleas didn't help, and he landed on the stone floor of the chapel, briefly stunned as she continued her lecture. By this point, he no longer cared about the story. Gran was talking to herself.
"It didn't last, of course. The chapel was deserted after the stock market crash. With the money gone, our neighbors shunned us. The birds were sold off to zoos or shot, since we could no longer afford to maintain the aviary. My father became thin and weak, went down to our fruit cellar one evening, and blew his skull to pieces with the same gun he used on the birds he couldn't sell. Mother said that he couldn't bear what he did to them. Unable to live without him, she hung herself from despair." She shook her head. "Always a weak woman, was Mother."
Jonathan had recovered by then, but she slammed the door shut even as he clambered to his feet, the sound echoing off stone walls. He ran to it, kneeling, desperate to reason with her. He listened to her voice and movements through the door. If he could hear her, she could hear him.
"Gran! Let me out! I'll do anything you want! I'm sorry! Let me out, please! Please!" He shouted until his voice rasped and his tongue became sandpaper. His knuckles hurt from pounding on the door. "I shouldn't have taken the book!"
"I was the one who found her body," Gran said as she worked at the door, ignoring the knocks and cries from the frantic boy inside. "We were left on our own. Myself. Marion, who for her faults knew how to look out for herself. Filthy, lying Karen, and her whelp of a son, Jonathan Crane. You. Nothing but a bad seed, born of sin. After my parents' deaths, we had to become strong and trust in God. It was all we had left. It was enough. We lived."
Behind the door, Jonathan, weak as he was, threw himself at it with all of his strength, trying to get her attention. She ignored him, and he heard a single click as it locked, leaving him trapped. He knew what would happen next. "Please, Gran! Let me out! Why do you do this to me?"
"The crows are God's agents, Jonathan, sent by Him to help you." Her voice was growing quiet, and he had to put his ear to the door to catch her words. "This is a harsh world and weakness won't do, or you'll die like my parents. God will make you strong through the crows if you let him. I learned that lesson when I was a girl, and now you will learn it, too. It kept me alive all these years. If you are going to survive, Jonathan, trust no one but yourself and the Good Lord."
He fell to his knees, exhausted, eyes wet with tears. His lungs were seared from all of the yelling, but he had no other way to be heard. "Please! Let me out! I can learn, but not this way! Anything but this! I'll -" The pain in his throat forced him to stop. By this point, her voice was very faint. She was singing something, but he couldn't make out the words. Even if he could, he had much more serious concerns by that point.
Jonathan turned, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The floor was coated with shattered glass and it was hard for him to see, so he couldn't walk for fear of hurting himself. The chapel was completely dark, apart from a little moonlight which got in through a gaping hole in the cage-like roof. The irony wasn't lost on Crane. The old aviary was still a cage, although it no longer held birds. The only things that he could hear in the silence were his own rapid breaths and heartbeat. He instinctively looked up at the hole in the roof.
For a moment, he dared to hope that God would be merciful and that he would spend the night cold and sick but unhurt. However, the flutter of wings far away dashed his hopes to pieces. A screeching flood of crows erupted through the hole and into the chapel, talons spread and their dark eyes focused directly on Jonathan Crane. He braced himself, standing firm in a final attempt to discourage them, but they were on him in moments. They tore at his hair, his clothes, and, when they could get at it, his skin. He screamed, partly out of pain and partly out of one last hope that some kind passerby would hear and he could get help.
Help didn't come; not that Jonathan expected it to.
Finally Jonathan's voice turned raw and he stopped screaming. Instead he covered his head and shielded his face with one arm while swatting at the crows with the other. If he got his hands on one of the birds, he would have wrung its neck, but there were too many and they were too strong. The most he could do was bear the pain until they eventually stopped attacking and returned to their perches.
When they finished, the crows flew to the roof of the chapel to sleep for the rest of the night, leaving Jonathan on the floor, bleeding. Open scratches were on his arms and chest from places where the suit had been torn by the birds' claws. The sleek tuxedo now had his dried blood on it. It would be fixed, of course. Gran always fixed his Sunday suit. He cowered in the darkness, unable to sleep on the hard stone, watching the crows cautiously to see if they would come back.
When the old wooden door opened with daybreak, the light stung Jonathan's eyes even as he stumbled outside, little more than a trembling, pale, exhausted wreck. A few feet away, a group of brown finches were out searching for worms. Their presence enraged Jonathan. Barely thinking, he charged into the flock, feeling a rush of savage animal joy as the little birds scattered in fear and fled into the trees.