Artist: Roger Ballen; for more information, visit

Artist: Roger Ballen; for more information, visit

The Beat of Black Wings

They said when you got here,
the whole thing started.
Who are you? What are you?
Where did you come from?
I think you’re the cause of all this.
I think you’re evil!  

— Hysterical Mother in Diner from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, 1963

Someone must always take the blame—whoring flight attendants or government bureaucrats, for example—but in this case it happens to be a cool blonde, maybe too icy in mint green, trailed by rumors from across the sea, dancing naked in a fountain, causing a scene. Because if there’s no culpability then the world will spin off its axis, rotated by millions of flapping wings.

It begins in the big city, but that’s too obvious, so take the action north to Bodega Bay, the tranquility ripe for destruction, the “it can’t happen here” placidness broken only by seagull cries, as they wheel and dive over the harbor. And then one attacks, draws blood. Melanie Daniels, the stranger in town, becomes patient zero.

Soon, the birds are massing outside the door, indiscriminate beaks nibbling at schoolteachers and children, ruining birthday parties, upsetting casual lunches and commerce. They perch in the most unexpected places; wake up with morning wood, hazy about whether it’s your wife or boyfriend next to you, and find beady eyes staring back ready to put the peck in pecker.

No one is safe, not even farmers, chain smoking schoolmarms or overbearing mothers with retinas stronger than any contraceptive. Handsome men who spend too much time in the city with hoods and ne’er-do-wells, come home with soiled underwear and reeking of jazz and liquor, are also in mortal danger.

Realization sets in far too late, not until the air is filled with murders of crows. They wait, patient jinxes, until you’re lulled into a false sense of security then attack. In the end, Melanie is drawn to the bedroom, left wide-eyed and ravaged, and the townspeople will say she got what she deserved for bringing the scourge upon them. But the radio crackles with news: the beat of black wings all the way to San Francisco.

Collin Kelley author photo by Colin Potts

About Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley‘s poetry collection, Render, was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2014 Over the Rainbow Book List and named one of the best books of 2013 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is also the author of the novels Conquering Venus, Remain In Light and the forthcoming Leaving Paris. His poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in magazines and journals around the world. For more information, visit