I had traveled a long way, and my legs were becoming weary under the strain of walking, depressed by the weight of my pack. The road stretched long in both ways, a concrete river streaked by intermittent yellow. No traveler had passed this way since the beginning of my trek, and those that had seemed far away, obfuscated by memory.
I looked down one end of the road as far as I could, and saw the steel sun setting near its end, releasing its metal knives of light into the cloud-enraptured sky. I looked down the other end, and saw a film of clouds marching toward the horizon, an ocean of white and grey and gold, narrowing off to a single point. There was no sign of life on either end but the wind, weaving through the fields.
I decided to rest, and take off my pack. I sat down by the side of the road and watched, and stretched out upon my back to look at the clouds. They were ominous in their silence, but acquiescent. I reflected on the journey behind me, and anticipated the one ahead.
The power lines that lined the road stood like spear-carriers at attention, surveying all but listening to none. They stood uniformly, in wooden echelons, observing the road and all its travelers. Where they lead, I did not know, but I would find out, sooner or later. They were comforting, a sign that somewhere ahead, there was a trace of civilization that used the electricity to their benefit.
Between the masses of gold and grey, a point of jet black wedged its way between the clouds, and then another, and another. They grew to the size of smudges upon a canvas, and bigger still, until their shapes became apparent.
They flew on silent pinions that glided on drafts, being pulled by puppet-strings in the clouds. It was a phalanx of crows, making their way to my road, my path, to meet me. They flew over the wheat and the power lines, still silent. A man who had not been looking would never have known of their furtive presence.
One of the crows landed on the power line with taloned hands. The wire moved not at all, but held stiff upon the crow's alighting. It showed its dignified profile, jet black, features distinguishable only by the slight purple sheen that the metal sun had cast upon it. Its beak was dark and sharp, and its eyes never left me. They glimmered wet, pools of white glare in an orb of solid black. The others followed, landing as silently and as unnoticeable.
"Hello," one said.
"Hello," I replied to it. I do not know which crow said it, perhaps all did, but by their demeanor it seemed as if they all shared the sentiment.
"Are you on a journey?" the crows asked. I replied that I was, and they said "ah, then you will need advice."
The first crow cawed, its voice as steel as the sun, echoing into the distance. "The journey is very long," the first crow said, who was called Fear. "Who knows what may happen upon the way? You might lose your path, and end up so far from your destination that you would never be able to retrace your steps. You could be killed, or robbed by highwaymen. It's a long road, what would happen if you died before you reached the end? It would all be in naught, would it not?"
"I see your point," I said to Fear.
"Perhaps I should not travel the rest of the journey.
"No," said the second crow, whose name was Idleness. "By no means. That pack you are carrying, is it heavy?"
"Yes," I said to Idleness, "it is very heavy. I was taking it off to rest for a while. It is hard to walk with such a pack."
"So why carry it?" Idleness asked. "The more you rush to your destination, the more your back will hurt and your feet will ache. Is your destination worth all those miles of pain? What is wrong with the field that surrounds you? The day is beautiful, is it not? Treasure what you have, don't risk it. Enjoy it."
"You also have a good argument," I said to Idleness. "Why should I carry on in pain when I can stay here at ease?"
"Look down the other path," said the third crow. "You have been down that path, do you remember what was down there? Was it not as golden as these fields? What assurance have you that your destination is better than your origin? No, I say you go back that way, and revisit those places of yore, that you treasure. Are not the sweetest thoughts in your minds the memories of places past? Places that you can still return to, no doubt. The farther you go, the more likely you will be unable to come back." This third crow's name was Reminiscence.
"I had not thought of it that way," I said to Reminiscence. "Those were good places, and I would enjoy going back to them."
"I disagree," said the fourth crow, who was named Indulgence. "Look at all the paths you can take. At the end of each of them lies a destination for you to visit, to soak up. Go to each, and from one, leave to the other, so that you may appreciate all of them. Even if for a moment, you will have all that these paths have to offer."
"I concur," I said to Indulgence. Indulgence cawed approval.
"Perhaps you are correct."
"Ah, but I have a better idea," the fifth crow stated. This fifth crow's name was Guile. "I have been to all sorts of destinations, flown overhead, and I know the best for you. Follow me, go where I tell you to, and you cannot be lost. I have been there, what reason have you not to trust me? I will never lead you astray, and certainly not for my own purposes."
"You seem as trustworthy as most," I said to Guile. "Perhaps I will follow you."
"Why bother?" said the sixth crow, who was called Despondency.
"What's the point to all of it? Life brings pain, on this journey it is inescapable. Why not just stop now, stay here, you'll never be free of that agony that life brings."
"That is true," I said to Despondency. "Is there any point at all?"
"Don't continue," said Fear.
"Live for pleasure," said Idleness.
"Go back," said Reminiscence.
"See everything," said Indulgence.
"Follow me," said Guile.
"Why bother?" said Despondency.
I listened to all, and they cawed simultaneously, each speaking its mind. The noise was tumultuous, and much of a change from the earlier silence of the setting sun.
"Go on," said another, smaller voice.
"Who said that?" I strained to hear. The six crows continued to caw and their feathers became ruffled black spearheads, endeavoring to drown out the smaller voice.
"Go on," said the voice. It was weaker than the rest, and I looked about to see where it was coming from. Off to the side of the six large crows was a smaller crow, sitting on the upper part of the wire. "Go on," it said. "Follow the road to your destination." I asked this seventh crow its name, and it replied "Hope."
"Why," I said to Hope, "is your voice so weak?"
"It isn't," the crow said. "You hear it weaker because you choose to. If you focus on these other crows, my voice will diminish. Likewise, if you listen to me, they will quiet." True enough, the six crows fell silent.
"Crow," I said, "will you accompany me on this journey?"
"I would be happy to," said Hope.
The seventh crow came and perched upon my shoulder, and together, we walked toward the setting steel sun.