The remains of apartment block E were still smoldering when the black birds started to show up. They were perched in a scrub tree along the outer wall, its leaves only slightly singed from falling ash.
It must have happened so fast, one said
I don’t understand, said another
Where’s the girl? said the eldest. The girl who fed them. The one who never seemed scared of them.
The others got quiet.
There was something toxic hanging in the air. The birds could smell it and wondered if the men in the yellow coats could. The eldest bird ruffled his feathers and hopped onto what was left of the window ledge.
The men inside were gutting the building, turning over old bed sheets and boxes. One man in particular stood out. He had white shoes and stood off to the side taking photos and frowning.
Whatever they were looking for they hadn’t found it.
The oldest bird hopped back down into the tree. His brothers looked at him expectantly but he said nothing.
Hours passed. The men in yellow left. The building was still barricaded but now candles were lit. A shrine was built.
When the sun set only the eldest bird remained on the wall. He watched the wind pick up and the people leave. He glided lightly down to look at the shrine, cards and flowers little trinkets. He looked at the man in the pictures.
A man. Not the girl.
And he flew off with a lighter heart to meet his brothers.