It was late afternoon, and I was picking up some french fries and baklava from the Mediterranean place down the street (lunch/light dinner) for my girlfriend and I. There are days when the thought of cooking a meal for yourself is too much, even if it's a bowl of cereal. The day-to-day and general time had a vague burden for both of us. Maybe that was a sign that we needed a vacation, or maybe the toils and troubles of the world were starting to affect us more than they used to in our twenties, or maybe, things were that bad. To mitigate and balance said weight, the natural thing to do - the American way - was to put it on someone else instead of ourselves for a change. Often, I unpacked these thoughts to her, which she politely responded with, you think too much. I thought that if thinking was rewarded with epiphanies of the world, hand-in-hand with agony, so be it.
Before going inside to order our dinner, I noticed hundreds of crows circling above our block. The sky was pastel blue with brushstrokes of Devil-red and magenta. No one else appeared concerned about their razor-shaped black bodies screeching and squawking in every pocket of air, every bowel of each naked tree along the rusted gutters of every apartment. It felt like a nightmare. It felt like a takeover. It felt as if they were trying to tell us something. I looked around the street, up and down the sidewalk, and no one seemed to notice. I even checked X, feverishly typing, crows in San Francisco. Nothing. The soft sunset did its best to put me at ease, yet as the crows continued to gather, any comfort or sense of security reversed.
“Pretty crazy, huh?” I asked one of the chefs on a cigarette break around the restaurant's corner.
“Huh?” they asked. “Just a bunch of birds.”
“It's a lot of them, though," I insisted. "The crows.”
He shrugged. "If I worried about every little thing in the sky or on this Earth, my hair would be standing up like yours."
I half-chuckled, suddenly self-aware of myself
"No offense," he said and went back inside.
Maybe it was just me?
It usually was.
At least, that’s the way it felt.
Back at home, I typed into ChatGPT, “What does a gathering of crows typically mean in history and myth?” As I waited for GPT's response, their shrill calls outside my window echoed in the street. “Give me an instance in real-life history where somebody died or soon died after. Also, what is their favorite food?”
I had been using the Ai for a few months now (for work and because it felt like the beginning of something bigger I should be aware of).
In many cultures, a gathering of crows is often seen as a symbol of death or a bad omen, I read. In some myths and legends, seeing a large group of crows was said to indicate that someone would soon die. For example, in Shakespeare's play "Macbeth," the witches predict that Macbeth will become king after they show him a vision of a group of crows.
There was a ping from my phone. I would have answered right away, but outside, the crow's chattering grew louder, rising like a cacophony of maimed orchestra instruments and electrocuted players. There was subtle violence to their calls. The retinas of my eyes shook in their sockets as I read ChatGPT’s text, but I couldn’t look away. The truth of their words and the truth going on outside were synonymous. A growing fear in me questioned if any of it was real.
Then, to bring me back, I heard someone from outside my office say, “Jesus Christ, these fucking crows are going off.”
ChatGPT kept writing. In ancient Rome, the appearance of a large flock of crows was seen as an ill omen and believed to foretell a great leader's death. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, a large flock of crows gathered and flew over the city just before the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. This event was considered a bad omen and was interpreted as a sign of the coming political turmoil and the end of the Roman Republic.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FOOD?” I furiously typed again in all caps, even though I knew the LLM didn't recognize my anger.
And as the three little bubbles on the screen percolated, my girlfriend entered my office. “The fries are surprisingly good with baklava.” She sniffed a few times. “It smells in here like rotten bananas.”
I looked at my trash; of course, there was a squishy, black and brown peel. Guilt washed over me with some disgust, but I couldn’t be distracted by that. ChatGPT had started typing.
“Nice chat,” she said and left.
"Banana," I screamed after her. "The smell!"
Crows are omnivores and eat various foods, including insects, small mammals, and carrion (dead animals). They also scavenge in trash cans and feed on food waste and crops such as corn and berries. Some cultures have also associated crows with theft, as they are known to steal food from other animals.
“Maybe they’re here for the trash…” I mused aloud, logic and relief washing over me. “That would make sense." I felt like I had found an answer. "Case closed."
Then, the crows stopped in their relentless fury and indifference to us all. I went to the window and watched as the sky was enveloped by night and the hundreds and hundreds of crowded bodies disappeared into it. At first, I felt a deep worry, something indescribable and almost oily, something that I couldn't grasp with either of my hands or mind. It was the closest I had ever been to the void, a space without a beginning or end. Out of a growing sense of desperation ever since I started using the Ai, I wanted an answer to why I was feeling this way. It was always there, and it always made me feel better, it always had a solution. So I asked ChatGPT where crows slept and where they went to stay warm to contextualize whatever was going on outside - make it real in a way - when my phone dinged again from a text.
It was my sister.