Name: Maria McDaniel @MariaCMcDaniel
Title: The Yellow Girl
Genre: Thriller with Supernatural Elements
It was the sudden exodus of crows from her mother’s tree that first told Danni he was coming. All week long, dozens of the black birds had gathered on the lawn like feathered loiterers in a prison yard. Danni had planted herself by the front window—counting crows and pretending she wasn’t—and she happened to know that ten of them had perched among the limes in her mother’s tree beside the porch.
“Momma, the crows are back.”
Elizabeth Ireland hunched closer to her laptop screen and refused to shudder. “Danni, please. Stop saying that.”
Danni pressed her nose against the windowpane and huffed a cloud of steam from flattened nostrils. “Well, they are.” For the hundredth time that day, there was a curling in her stomach, like a length of wire winding into knots.
She was small for her age, which vexed her, with eyes too large for her face and a wild mane of hair that refused to be managed. Squinting slightly, she drew a face on the steamed glass; just a lump-like circle, mismatched eyes and a crooked mouth. She bent and looked through the eyeholes, peering out at the birds in the rain-drenched yard. Something cold crept over her shoulders, then, because all ten crows had grown quiet and still, and each pair of eyes stared back at her.
“Momma”—she kept her voice low—“are they regular crows?”
“Of course they’re regular,” her mother replied, not shifting her gaze from the screen. “What else would they be?”
“It seems like they’re thinking stuff.”
“Now you’re being silly.”
Danni frowned at the face she’d drawn on the glass, deciding to add a long, protruding tongue. And fangs. “Since they’ve come, everybody’s upset.”
“I’m upset. Elliot’s upset.” For once, Danni and her older brother had actually agreed on something. “It’s because of that big, red ‘V’ on all your papers, isn’t it?”
Elizabeth Ireland’s fingers stopped typing. “Who told you that?”
“Elliot.” Danni’s finger traced a deep “V” across the face in the glass, then another, and another, marring the image into a smeared, angry scribble. “Something’s wrong. That’s why they’re here.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Danielle!” Her mother slammed her hand against the desk and stood. “It’s got nothing to do with the dumb crows!”
It might’ve been her sudden movement, or the sound of her palm smacking hard against the desk, or the fact that she’d shouted (when she never shouted), but that was the moment—the precise moment—when every bird in the yard took flight. Danni screamed, scrambling backward across the floor as the crows fled the lime tree’s slender branches and swarmed like bats into the darkened sky. When the air finally cleared of their screeching bodies, an unfamiliar car was in the driveway.