As The Crow Flies

Average: 3.5 (4 votes)
Your rating: None

 I was called George, back then, and I was the tribe's medicine man. I was also a full-fledged doctor with a diploma to show for it. However, it was Tabatha's crow that spoke to me in a dream. It knew of the tragedy that this Christmas would bring--if I did not act.
Our tribe's Band Council had entrusted me with full guardianship of this five-year-old child, since her parents could not reach a viable custody agreement. Each were blinded by hate and jealousy and in the end, both simply moved out of country, she to England, and he to the States. No one had heard from either since their separation, but on this Christmas Eve, the family would gather for the first time in years.
When Jerry approached the Customs Officer he was already seething. His revolver was stashed in his glove compartment. His eyes squinted from lack of sleep, and empty styrofoam cups sat wedged between his dashboard and windshield.
"Business or pleasure? Do you have anything to declare?" The officer barely glanced at the American. He was dreaming of Christmas and how he would not be spending it with his family.
"Pleasure. I hate my wife and I'm going strangle her."
"Excuse me?"
"Kidding. My wife's an Angel. Ha."
"You're lucky. Mine's still alive. Ha. Listen, now, if this wasn't Christmas Eve, you and your warped sense of humour would not be crossing today. Happy Holidays. Now, skiddadle!"
A tall crow expanded its dark wings and flew off of the car's roof when Jerry pressed the accelerator. The bird finally landed on the wing of a Boeing 747 as it taxied toward Montréal's Dorval Airport. Above the wing, inside the airplane, sat Mellinda, as she pressed the wrinkles of her dress with slim hands. Her hands turned to fists that squeezed deep into her thighs.
On Christmas Eve we gathered at my home. Jerry and I decorated a pine tree out front as Mellinda baked a turkey in the kitchen. Tabatha's crow stood on the windowsill squinting its eyes--guarding the proceedings. Even Tabatha was not enthused. Following cold hugs and polite greetings, she had excused herself and slipped out of sight. And then it happened. A loud blast echoed against the grey clouds, and the crow flew directly onto Jerry's car. Tabatha had discovered her father's gun and had accidentally fired it. She lay unconscious in the passenger seat. I examined her and was relieved to see she had not been hurt. I should say she bore no outward wounds, but the event had left her lifeless. She hadn't spoken nor smiled in hours. It was as if her heart had suffered from a wound greater than a gunshot.
Jerry and Mellinda's entrenched hate had turned into confusion and fear, so it did not take much coercing to convince them into participating in a traditional Indian sweat lodge, ceremony. I told them it would summon their child's spirit and that they had nothing to fear. But I had lied. They had plenty to fear--simply little to lose.
They sat on a bench across from mine as I poured more water onto the hot coals. Thick smoke rolled up then cascaded downward, pulling at each one's spirit, inviting them to lift and soar. But nothing. All three looked down at their feet, expressionless.
Hours passed and I knew it was time to stop. But they just lay there; lifeless, stubborn, unwilling to let go. I pushed harder when I increased the tent's temperature, and finally, both Mellinda's and Jerry's spirit sprayed outward and formed two gaseous clouds. Hers was reddish, his green. The green cloud pushed toward the red one, encircled it and began to squeeze. The red spirit pushed outward, releasing the other's hold, then both retracted into a dense gaseous tube. They attacked one another once more, as they curled, snaked, then twined together in a tight death hold.
Their drenched bodies lay on the bench, their faces contorted, teeth clenched.
I had no choice. Increasing the heat to a dangerous level, I chanted and summoned spirits from other worlds. From parallel worlds where a Jerry and a Mellinda may be a better fit in this one. With each attempt their coloured clouds behaved with aggression and contempt, until finally, a pair of clouds hovered side by side, circling and probing, as if unsure they should approach one another.
When I reached for the rope that would pull the tent's flaps upward, Tabatha finally joined in. Hers was a white fluorescent nebula. It shot between the two lone spirits then took hold of both and pulled them into hers. There was a bright flash, then only one cloud hovered above. It was multicolored, as the three gases now formed one.
The spirits rained back toward their bodies, and when I opened the flaps they sat up. I watched the reflection of the Christmas tree lights sparkle in their eyes.
"Merry Christmas," was all I said.
I hoped the initial Jerry and Mellinda would fare better in their new world. Perhaps life's variables would be more favourable to them, there, but my jurisdiction was in this world.
Many years have passed since that Christmas day. Jerry and Mellissa now lie side by side under one tombstone. And I should add that they had celebrated many more Chistmas Eves, before they passed. Tabatha has married and is now a grandmother to little Martha. As for myself, I am Martha's protector, now. I am called Ruby. This name I have earned from my obsession with shiny objects that I gather and place on Martha's windowsill. I watch her closely, and I know if there is ever a need, I can spread my wings and fly to the medicine man, as I have his ear.

About the Author: 
Denis's work has appeared in various print and online literary journals. He is pleased to be writing again. In fact, he was last spotted hunched over his keyboard, coffee in hand and cat in lap, as they planned his next Quantum Short.

Newsletter Signup

Submit your email address so we can send you occasional competition updates and tell you who wins!

Quantum Theories

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.