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Thirteen

Every night since the fire, Jessayln dreamt of wings. They pursued her through the halls of school, through the stop signs in town. They pursued her through the lectures as her parents tried to weave a cage of love and to the city with nests made of glass instead of clapboard. No one could catch her heart, for it flew faster than any bird.

Modeling made ends meet, and it was just another gig. Just another shoot. Just another elevator to a nondescript reception lobby. Down a narrow hall to a nondescript door, into a garden paradise on the 67th floor.

Nymphish girls ran from hair to makeup and Jessalyn was caught in their whirlwind. Tape measures swirled around her almost by themselves, chased after by dark clad assistants with clipboards and sharp voices. Her hair pulled up at an unseen hand, coiffed carefully into a ponytail on top of her head, then stuffed and spiraled into a bun-like nest. Earrings jabbed by deft hands dangled from her ears. Makeup applied with a hasty brush made her sneeze, but before she could ask questions, she was ushered with the others past plants she didn’t recognize and into a gown of black feathers that trailed to the floor behind her. Others were clad like peacocks, others like swans, but twelve of the other girls were decked in black dresses identical to hers.

The brightly colored girls fluttered off, but one of the assistants held up a hand when Jessalyn tried to follow. “The Corvid is not to follow. Wait here.”

When the voices of the others faded, the Corvid girls looked at Jessalyn, and she stared back into faces she previously knew only from the mirror and photographs. Jessalyn walked towards them, her steps hesitant but the pull irresistible.

“One for sorrow, for we have lost much for your flightiness” the first girl said, stepping aside.

“Two for joy, for we have been happy at times, though you never cared” the second girl said, standing beside the first girl.

“Three for a girl who saw too much that night.” The third girl stepped slightly further away from the others, her eyes never leaving Jessalyn.

“Four for a boy, who accepted his fate.” Another self faded into the group, lining up like paper dolls.

“What are you talking about?” Jessalyn shouted at them, trying to back away, only to find there was nowhere left to run. The wings had caught her, after so long.

“Five for silver, like your ethereal eyes.” Her voice, her own voice, spitting back the compliment she’d heard for so long, turning it into an insult.

“Six for gold like the firebird so long ago.”

It can’t be. It was a nightmare, a mass hallucination, a fantasy.

“Seven for a secret never to be told. Do you know it?” The girl leered as she stepped aside to join the others in their half formed circle around Jessalyn.

Jessalyn shook her head, earrings bouncing. “Please stop! I don’t know what’s going on here, but this isn’t funny.”

“Eight for a wish you didn’t remember, and still don’t.”

“Is this some sort of hazing the new girl thing? Because it’s seriously creeping me out!” The circle was almost entirely formed around her now, and her heart fluttered in her chest like a bird trying to escape.

“Nine for a kiss stolen under a mountain laurel longer ago.”

She’d almost forgotten. She’d kissed Alex once in the spring, playing truth or dare with the others. She’d promised not to kiss anyone else until they had a chance to try it again, alone. They’d never had the chance. She’d gone to her grandmother’s for the summer. When she returned in the fall, things weren’t the same, and then there was the bonfire…

“Ten’s a surprise you cannot miss!” The tenth Corvid reached out in a blur of motion and a flash of wings.

A sharp, burning pain filled Jessalyn’s gut. She looked down to see a knife, half gold, half silver, piercing deep into her. She stumbled, but none of the girls so much as reached out a hand to help her. They just kept staring at her with their doll like, bird like faces.

“Eleven for health, health you wasted. Are your wrists thin enough yet?”

Jessalyn fell to the floor, gasping.

“Twelve for wealth,” the last girl said, throwing a pair of coins at Jessalyn’s head.

Each girl merged and swirled and divided until there were seven, four, twelve again, an infinity of Corvids. No. Corvidae. Crows. A murder of crows.

“Thirteen, rise. Thirteen take your place with your sisters. Thirteen, beware.” But it was too late for warnings, too late for apologies, too late for the crow now fluttering wings above what used to be her body.

She left it behind too. No point in taking it with her, it would only hold her to the earth, and she’d always been too flighty for that.

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