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          Infestation is an unusual word to be used in connection with birds. Unusual, yes, yet most definitely the word to be used when the involvement of Taras Morovic was required. A more general and accepted usage of the word would be in relation to animals more often considered to be pests, animals such as cockroaches, wasps, locusts or rats, but on this particular occasion the word ‘infestation’ most definitely referred to birds. This was not just a random collection of birds either, nor was it an over-inflated influx of migratory animals which had discovered it to be lost and was taking stock of its surroundings and therefore its options before moving on. No this was an infestation of a more serious, permanent and menacing variety, for, over the course of many preceding months, months which themselves may have swollen into years, the village had, without notification or warning, become overrun by crows. Even the crows that now filled the skies and lined the streets did not appear to conform to the expected dimensions of their breed: they were larger, blacker, bore more sturdy grey beaks and brandished more ferocious and deadly talons than any crows that any human could recall.

          No one who resided in the village could accurately put a time scale as to when the birds had begun to appear. Some argued that the birds had steadily been building in numbers over the course of many years; others protested that they had all appeared at the same moment, flooding the sky like a thunder storm. What everyone did agree upon, however, was that one day it was a lonely murder that sat atop a tree adjacent to the road which led people to and from their houses, and then the next the flock had swollen to proportions that were barely conceivable, let alone numberable. At first, although somewhat perplexed, the majority of the villagers accepted the situation, after all the birds seemed content to live off carrion and scraps, and, apart from the occasional cawing in-fights, caused no-one any undue alarm. Things, however, had rapidly begun to change. People had started to notice that the crows had become bolder and more invasive in their behaviour. Now they no longer seemed content to live off the scraps and hand outs from their human neighbours – now they had taken to flying, at first individually, and later in twos and threes, directly into houses and shops. Here they casually and confidently took what ever they felt that they wanted or needed, regardless of any human intervention. Once again many of the villagers, at least at first, thought this behaviour charming if, at times, a little intimidating, but when the novelty began to wear off they found it impossible to deter the birds. In fact the crows now deemed it their right to take what ever they wanted and at a time which suited them and their attitude shifted from one of confidence to one of pure aggression. Within days reports from across the village of vicious bird attacks began to circulate: people had received cuts and scratches, bruises and lacerations which had reached the bone. Everyone spoke with one voice – the time for action had come.

          By the end of the week the village leaders had gathered themselves together and formulated their plan of action. Every form of discouragement from scarecrows to rattling tin, from cats to guns had been tried, and all to no avail. There were no further options open to them: the message was sent out, and the mysterious Taras was summoned.

          Taras Morovic was by no means a large figure. His small, squat frame, almost cunningly designed to disguise his strength, gave him the look of a strangely deformed and stunted man. His head was somewhat square, surmounted by a thick, unkempt shock of black hair, loose curled and dense. Barely visible beneath its cover his eyes were deep-set, intense and dark; his mouth, small and thin. No-one who had ever met him could remember his smile. Taras spoke rarely, and when he did he kept his words brief, succinct and to the point – he was not a man to waste his breath unnecessarily. The one and only thing that he liked, it seemed, was his work, and at this he was expert. No infestation had ever managed to defeat the skills that Taras Morovic possessed and the crows he now faced would prove no exception.

          When Taras arrived in the village he was greeted with both warmth and courtesy. Many of the villagers lined the streets which led to the centre of the village and the Council Hall. Some villagers shouted their welcome whilst others displayed a more restrained reverence – but the stranger in their midst was ambivalent to everything around him. Behind closed doors discussions were held between concerned and worried villagers as to whether or not this odd character who had descended upon them was up to the job, and whether or not they would be freed from the plague that blighted them. As the villager elders stepped out of their hall the crowd hushed in excited anticipation. Without a word they led Taras through the open doors. Once inside the councillors talked, outlining their requirements and expectations. Taras listened attentively, occasionally scribbling something into the small, black notebook which was his constant companion. Only when they had completely finished did he speak. He told them of his fee, and, without hesitation, the councillors agreed. Money exchanged hands, and the deal was done. Taras stipulated only one more thing and that was that the streets of the village be empty by midnight. The councillors acceded to such a simple request.

          Had anyone been watching as the hands of the town clock swept past twelve they would have seen a small, squat figure, clad entirely in a black hooded cloak drift soundlessly through the streets. They would have seen the figure’s arms make gentle, undulating motions as he passed each house, and the most sensitive of ears might just have heard the strange mutterings that he made. Had anyone been watching they would have caught the last glimpse of the strange, ethereal figure as it floated out of the village and away from their lives forever. But, of course, no-one was.

          Nobody knew exactly how it had happened, what weird and mysterious events had unfolded during the course of the night, but, as one by one they awoke, each person in the village became aware of the change that had taken place. The crows had gone, most certainly, disappearing as dramatically as they had once arrived. The only sign that they had ever dominated the village lay in the nests, already, it appeared, crumbling in the tops of the trees which surrounded the village. No-one understood what had happened, and no-one asked for explanation – they were merely content in the fact that their problems had vanished. As the days became clearer people started to wonder what kind of magic or slaughter had taken place – but the man who had come and gone within a day had left no trace of his presence, and not even a feather remained of the crows. As days passed into weeks and weeks into months all talk of the crows and mystery faded, vanishing into the sky as once their troubles had. The village returned to a life which it once had known as if nothing had ever changed.

          Deep in the forest, hidden from even the most curious and perceptive of eyes, Taras Morovic sat, rocking rhythmically backwards and forwards in his chair. He sat outside his compact, wooden cottage, which itself was nestled in the safety of a well guarded clearing, eyes closed, lost in thought. Around him a large number of enormous black birds pecked calmly at the many carcasses which lay on the ground. Occasionally they would stop, raise their heads, and talk to one another, their language strange and unfathomable, but soft and succinct. Taras opened his eyes and surveyed his kingdom: the trees were lined with paper-like nests, filled the harmonious hum of a million wasps; around their trunks countless cockroaches rummaged, re-organising the undergrowth like a well rehearsed army. In the bushes a large colony of rats worked tirelessly, designing and redesigning their living quarters, searching for perfection. In which ever direction Taras looked his eyes were met with the rewards of his labours; in every direction he saw harmony. He closed his eyes once more, and pondered his next collection.

 

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