The crows had come for her sunflowers.

The sunflowers were the only bright thing to happen to her since moving to this stupid beach town. And now that tourist season was winding down, whatever was left of the town’s appeal was dwindling quickly.

It was a huge mistake moving here — the local people were odd and boring and she felt very isolated.

When she was little, her parents would bring her here in the summers. Back then, it was a different place and she loved it so much. All the quirky little shops, the boardwalk, the beach. There was nothing to do but eat ice-cream and get your palm read and shop for glass jewelry and saltwater taffy.

She dreamed her whole adult life about leaving the city and moving here for good. And now, her parents were long gone and she was stuck here all alone in this faded postcard of a town.

How did this place even stay afloat, she wondered? How much commerce could there possibly be in artisanal fudge and handmade candles, anyway? How many people bought seashell art?

She didn’t plant the sunflowers, they just sprung out of the ground a few months earlier. So, she took it as a sign. A gift from the Universe, she called it. 

And now, a murder of crows were looking at her sunflowers and their seeds with hungry eyes.

“Perhaps we can strike a deal?” she said, and offered the crows a handful of peanuts. 

The crows accepted the offer and left the sunflowers untouched.

However, they returned the next day, and they brought friends. The flock was nearly five times its original size.

It was a lot of crows.

More peanuts. She added raisins this time to sweeten the deal. Again, the crows accepted, the sunflowers were safe, and living in the bizarre little beach town was bearable for another night.

Her city friends tried to warn her when she announced she was moving. “You’ll be all alone! You’ll be so bored!” They tried to talk sense into her. “You’re a city girl and you can never take the city out of the girl! And so many people drown there every year!”

She reminded them she was an expert swimmer and no one had drowned at the beach in years. And yes, she was a city girl, but she was also someone who used to count down the hours to summer. 

She wanted to be someone who looked forward to things again.

Currently, she looked forward to her sunflowers. They were all she thought about, and she seemed to see them everywhere. On her walks down the boardwalk, she would see sunflowers on water-coloured greeting cards, on an old lady’s swimming suit, on cookies in a bakery window.

The crows dutifully returned the next day. This time, they brought her a gift! 

A long, shiny red piece of string. It was threaded through a discarded aluminum tab, the kind you pull off a soda can. 

If it had just been a string, or if it had just been a tab from a Coke can, that would have been something, but not remarkable. But threading the string through the tab not once, not twice, but three times, was deliberately special. They had made and brought her a necklace.

This was a sign.

That night, she diced apples for them, taking care to remove the seeds because she’d read on Google that apple seeds contained cyanide.

The next day, she went shopping for the crows. Cucumbers and tomatoes for dinner! She had to make small talk with the produce lady for 20 minutes. It was agony! 

The crows did indeed return for trade negotiations that evening. This time, they brought shiny, crinkly, candy wrappers.

Of course —  she remembered these candies from her summer visits as a child. She had to find the place that made them!

The next day, she walked out to the far reaches of the boardwalk, and she found the candy shop, but it was closed — even though the sign said they should be open! 

Disappointing. This stupid town.

She was late returning home that evening, but she had bought a bag of oranges so she hoped the crows would understand.

The crows were already at the house when she arrived. They were loud and upset.

Was this a shakedown?

It was. But not for her. 

Seagulls! A whole flock of them had made the mistake of trespassing on crow territory. She couldn’t believe what she saw. The crows chased the seagulls away and the sunflowers remained unharmed. They were under crow protection now. 

Orange, anyone?

They brought her glassy stones from the beach. They were so pretty she was compelled to spend the whole next day walking along the beach.

They brought her lots of things in the coming weeks, including a soldier’s dog tags, and a rusty old key.

Other evenings, they brought her more candy wrappers, but she was dismayed to find the candy shop still closed.

One time, they brought her a knight piece from a chess set. “Now all you have to do is bring me the rest of the pieces. And someone to play with,” she laughed.

They brought her coins and dollar bills too! But her favourite things were post-it notes and people’s shopping lists. They’d have tasks and personal notes on them like, “don’t flip this switch!” and “eggs, milk, and a frisbee” and “this wicker furniture isn’t for sale, I just like to sit out here!”

It was strange, but she started to feel more connected to the weird little town.

Days turned into weeks and she forgot all about the sunflowers. They were wilting and turning brown but all she could think about these days were the crows.

One crisp night, they brought her a business card that said, “CALL HUGO!” 

So she did.

Hugo was not her usual type, but it was nice to have someone to talk to. He asked about her solo knight on her bedside table one night but she didn’t tell him about the crows. Instead, he brought over a chess set and sometimes they played. It really wasn’t bad. 

Hugo had an aquarium store, but he didn’t sell fish. He just sold aquariums and aquarium accessories. She thought that was weird and mentioned one time that he might have more business if he sold fish, but he wasn’t interested.

As the nights got colder, and the sunflowers were all but gone, she wondered if that meant the crows would be leaving too. Did crows migrate? She had no idea. She could Google it, but her mind seemed to be on other things, mostly spending the winter indoors with Hugo.

Her city friend called her up and she reminisced for an hour on how an impulse brought her to this strange, sleepy tourist trap, and how the sunflowers brought her the crows, who brought her Hugo.

“The Universe gives us signs all the time,” she said wisely. “We just don’t see them in the city because there’s too much noise.”

And she wasn’t wrong, the Universe did indeed send signs. In fact, the crows felt the same way.

The crows especially felt it when news had surfaced that a mysterious drowning had occurred — the town’s first one in years — despite ideal swimming conditions.

The crows also knew that the drowning victim was an excellent swimmer — on military leave, in fact — to visit his father, who owned the candy shop on the boardwalk.

And they knew that the sunflowers had chosen this woman to be the main character of a very important story, if only she could see it.

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Image from Canva