I feel very privileged to have had ‘The Silent Raven Calls‘ published by the wonderful Gobblers & Masticadores magazine. This is a dark fantasy story telling how strong the bond between a mother and her daughter is regardless of the circumstances.
If you want a good read offered in many styles (and languages) then you could do far worse than giving Gobblers and Masticadores a try. The good people who operate the magazine have also asked if I would contribute to them monthly, and I’ve agreed, so be prepared.
I hope you have time to read my story, and as always, thank you for reading this.
I once watched an artist paint the sky. His brush caressed the canvas like a lover’s kiss. His every fluent movement was poetry in motion. At least, I thought so. The painter did not.
Whether it was frustration, or a lack of imagination, who knew? But the fellow grew so incensed, he snatched each sheet from his easel and tossed them into the wind. There they drifted like enormous snowflakes off to decorate unfamiliar landscapes.
The trees provided shade and anonymity. These I used for hours. The painter remained unaware of my presence throughout. And although I couldn’t see what he painted, I took a certain satisfaction in knowing I would.
As the sun evaporated into the river in tangerine bursts, things changed. The poor fellow’s inability to capture what he wished gained momentum until, in one shrieking outburst, he threw his palette away. It landed upside down in the water.
I expected to see a brief flash of vermillion, perhaps a touch of violet, cerulean or emerald green; there was only black. The paint bled into the river like a cut vein during an eclipse. Spilled ink might have described it, but ink had a purpose and this did not. What a waste. What a terrible waste.
I clasped a hand to my mouth, but too late. The cough echoed into infinity.
The painter turned. He wept. Tears streamed from his old, rheumy eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I spluttered.
The painter looked right through me, right into my soul. His eyes took in my colours, my personal palette. He refused to stop swamping me in his sorrows. I feared we’d both drown.
When the sun disappeared below the horizon with a pfft of extinguished flame, only then did he look away. To heaven, actually.
“Ah,” he crooned. “Now I remember.”
“Remember what?” The words left my lips without permission.
“Raven. Her hair was raven. If only I’d not tossed my paints away. Ah, well!”
Head drooped and feet shuffling, the painter packed up his belongings and made to leave. He paused as the moon came out in mercury silvers, turned back. “Never forget what she looks like, young man.”
“I won’t,” I promised.
With that, he departed. I never saw him again.
I often looked back and mulled over his words. He’d seemed so genuine. But only as I too regarded her bone white features and robes of liquid obsidian, did I know who he meant. I couldn’t have captured her raven hair either, as her ebony eyes already held my own.
They differ to us substantially. The most apparent of these is their appearance. We stand upon two legs, make our way through a tactile world with two hands and regard our universe through two eyes. In a more direct description, we are paired. This pairing navigates beyond the physical into the realms of belief. We believe we should live our lives in pairs, couples, if you will, so we do. We are a species who thrive in the plural. A species must thrive if it wishes to endure.
They exist in the singular, derived from a singular entity, one that split to spawn many. Wherever possible, they refrain from interaction and keep to themselves. They live alone, talk alone and enjoy doing so. Physically, we are comparable, but they do not see it this way. They look through two eyes, but act as though looking through none. They have two legs, but refuse to use them unless necessary. Their paired arms and hands have become so conjoined with technology, they have become indistinguishable from the greater whole.
Their name? They have many names and many subsets. They dislike being classified as many and prefer singular — as is their way — identification. My colleagues term them vermin, but the correct and almost forgotten genus is human. They are a strange lot, yet as a scientist, I find them intriguing. Though at their present rate, I suspect I shall not for much longer.
Cold was the morning you frosted away like a slender white shadow escaping the sun. Freezing, if truth be known. A displaced moonbeam marked your demise. A creaking branch acknowledged my own. Such inglorious departures for two once lovers on this our final goodbye. Perhaps we were never meant to be.
In veins cut and blood lost, I departed.
The malaise came in breaths made mists. They gathered. They loomed. I cowered.
There was no moon, no setting sun, just an eternal twilight, or closer, a damnable dusk.
Memories, however, were never so easily vacated. Tidal in their surges, relentless in their crashing intent, all that I, we, and everything in between had been, regathered. The pages of our book un-tore themselves.
And still, I wanted more.
Lost in the fogs of neither here nor there, I wandered in a landscape of dread morbidity. To the passing recollections of others, I appeared furrowed of brow and dangerous. To those who’d had less than we, I gleamed. Ghosts avoided me. Nature abhorred me. They were right to.
As for her?
I wished to forget, no longed to, to move on to other planes of existence. I determined to build such thorny, impenetrable barriers as to have bricked her away in my mind’s darkest recesses. And I tried. Yes, I tried.
But those emerald eyes were hard to stifle, lush spring grasses dripping with dew. That’s how I remembered her, weeping. Always weeping.
Days became months and months became more, the centuries amassing in insurmountable massifs, my own private Himalayas. Yet, I climbed with intent and rejoiced in the starlight, for the stars were what I imagined. Some latent wish to stand atop the world and scream her name, persevered. A desire so strong it dragged me up, up, up and away towards the light. My legs pumped, growing stronger with every step. My flexing fingers crushed granite, grappled with purgatory itself. But it wasn’t purgatory, not limbo, not any of those self-titled places between places. As I said, neither here nor there.
I heard her voice as a rainbow all bright light coruscating through the rain clouds. She burst from above and drove me to distraction; it was all I’d ever hoped for and more. No echoing torment was this, no indeterminable dream. It came again, a sonic confirmation.
The veil dropped as though from a blushing bride, and Hell dropped away with it. The Earth with all its colours lay before me in its patchwork perfection. Heaven’s gates rested at my fingertips.
Say her name. Just say her name. Say her name and all shall be returned to you traveller, for your love is binding, tied tighter than infinity’s restrictions.
And I wept as they spoke, or sang, or kissed my stone-cold cheek. Blessed were the angels. I was back. Well, almost.
Lips that had not spoken in eternity pursed through my smile. They readied. They dared me to stop them.
But everything one wished for was never so easy. Death, like life, was never meant for cheating. And though it rattled around my cavernous mind like an avalanche down a mountain, her name had gone.
I tired. We all do eventually. I tired of remembering, of forcing what time had lost. I succumbed.
Only when the fog once again entwined my soul in its lover’s embrace did I remember. Only then. I remembered why I’d forgotten it, too, and wandered forever away.
I dream of a girl with raven hair and eyes suffused with sorrow. She lies on a bed draped in lace and languor, waiting for something, anything, but not me.
The nights roll past like midnight breakers, the froth of their passing coating my dreams. I watch the moon descend into this nothingness without ever the certainty it’ll rise again. At least, I know it won’t rise for me.
A pinprick sky of dazzling gems flickers. The stars take their last hurrah. An obsidian curtain shall soon drop across them like freshly dug earth upon a grave. I set my spade aside.
There’s a man in a nightmare from which he can’t wake, where a girl in her bed dreams of the ocean, and the stars die every evening. I have the power to help one of them, but which? This uncertainty shall ruin me.
Soulless images swinging from a ledge, we perused the underworld as if a dare. A vast darkness, it swirled and roiled in endless chaos, a temptation to all we undesirables, and we were more undesirable than most.
Time meant little there. Each dusk rivalled the next for length and languor. Each splitting of the sky rendered the place more ruinous. Eternity was less a bonus than the Devil had promised.
We jumped from boredom, not shame. We plunged into His realm, as he had dropped into ours. I only hoped our son watched from heaven. Perhaps it balanced the books.
She claimed me a simple fellow bereft of ideas and ambition. In many ways, this was true, but not all. Whilst she revelled in opulent un-necessities, as I termed them, I made do. As she basked by day in dazzling pools of gold, quicksilver sprinkles by evening, I brushed off the ragged darkness and settled for black. This was just my way. As you might imagine, we clashed. Money and its making was ever a seduction to some.
Lissette was as headstrong as I was meek. She wore me down. She erased my lines like pencil from a clean, white page. It seemed I wore my soul as a too-long cape, one that dragged in the gutter, grew wet and mould-ridden, whilst she bought ever more spectacular silks and flaunted them as a modern-day Scheherazade. She recited her wondrous tales to whoever, whenever, just to get her way. Something had to change, as I was no king and she certainly no prospective queen. Yes, something had to change. But what?
The simplest solutions are often the best, and mine was the simplest of all: I ran. I gathered all I owned, emptied the accounts, leaving her with next to nothing, and fled to the mountains where once I’d thrived as a boy. There, where only goats roamed and cows munched the pastures, I lived the simplest of simple lives. Unfortunately, even this was too much.
She appeared one windswept evening, drenched and enraged. Her clothes hung from her like a wailing banshee, her skin now of spectral shades. What beauty she’d flaunted had long since past. Even her eyes had dimmed. If she still possessed the gold and silver she so valued, there was not one sign. Had she sold all her belongings, spent her, or rather, our fortune, just to track me? Could she truly have been so petty?
“You left.” She slammed the shack door closed to a whistle and a whoosh.
“You… left… me…”
“I did.” What else was there to say?
She shook so violently, raindrops sprayed everywhere, soaking everything, including me.
“You made me look foolish.”
“You did that on your own.”
“Me!” she said, as if in disbelief.
“What do you want?”
“I’m your wife…”
“We were never married. Never would have been, either.”
“In the eyes of the law, we were, and I want what I’m entitled to.”
She unravelled a script that said as much. I read it, rolled it back up and refastened the thing. I set her with one of my best looks and said, “I gave it all away.”
She laughed for some reason. Lissette almost split her sides. Only after several minutes of tears and frothing did she recompose.
“Where is it?”
“With a boy in Toulon. An old woman in London. A gypsy somewhere in between. There were, of course, others, all far more needy than I. The list was extensive. Now, I have this and nothing more. I spread my arms out wide.
I had seen rivers breach and even a volcano blow its top in Sicily, but nothing compared to her. Lissette knew me as well as I knew her, and there was never any doubt of my lying.
The dagger slipped into her hand as easily as a dream into sleep. Even easier into my heart, and twice in my head.
I woke to a glistening web of a place, neither silver nor gold, rich nor poor. The others were there, those I’d assisted, helping me to my feet, smiling.
“No, said the boy.
“Down there,” said the old lady, who looked decidedly better than when last I’d seen her.
“Cursed,” added the gypsy. She crossed herself and spat.
“Oh,” said I.
I wept then. Not for being murdered, nor that briefest of pain, but for Lissette.
“Why?” chorused the masses who’d benefited from my philanthropy, all those she’d tracked and butchered.
“I loved her.”
As I said, the simplest answers are always best. Never embellish them with adornments, no matter how fierce the shame.
She sits at the bus stop day after day. I stand at my window, imagining her name. Rain or shine, snow or wind, it makes no difference to the girl in the little lemon dress. She waits there regardless. I watch her the same.
There are buses every fifteen minutes that lead to and from the city, but which city, I no longer recall? I’m as obsessed with her as she is with time. She’s crying today.
I pour out a coffee on this evening to chill souls. Seeing her waiting for a man who’ll never arrive has warped my mind. Today, I shall make a difference. Today, I shall do the right thing.
The door clicks shut in my wake; my eyes are already upon her. She shields her own from the steadily falling snow, invisible against her porcelain features. The coffee steams from the cup.
The distance takes an age to cover, not because of the traffic, as there is none, but from my stuttering footsteps.
“Hello,” I say when almost upon her. “I’ve brought something to warm your soul.”
The cup is offered and dropped, slipping from her fingers like a dream. This saddens me and I leave.
The next day comes, and she is gone. All I can think is, was she ever there? And, was I?
She smiled the way a fox might, inviting but deadly. Her dark blue lips like liquid evening pursed as though lost in deepest thought. She contemplated something the rest of us struggled to grasp. Slim through the face with prominent cheekbones, her skin glittered in a moonlight outshone only by her eyes. They blazed. It was these that drew me, though any number of her exquisite accoutrements might have. Closer to oval and slanted down towards her slender nose, her eyes were like autumn when the leaves began to turn, not gold, not red, but somewhere in-between. Her eyes said more in one gleaming moment than another’s in a lifetime. She was spellbinding. I was spellbound.
The lady oozed style. Hers was the kind of body made anything look divine. She didn’t even try! I suspected she didn’t want to either. There was something about her air, a certain nonchalance that bordered on arrogance when viewed by another, but never by her. She emphasised this with the cut of her raven locks, or lack of cut, left long like a velvet curtain of night. Each strand in this dark web fulfilled a purpose. Each fibre intimated something different: an outstretched palm; a look away; a violent glare; the night; oblivion. But worst of all, when she inclined her head, her hair falling forward like twilight to reveal the porcelain skin of her perfect neck, it hid her eyes. For this, I never forgave her.
She lived in the last house of the last road headed out of town. There she’d sit on her porch each evening reclining in a hammock that swayed back and forth in unfelt winds regardless of whether she sat upon it or not. Bewitched one might’ve said. Yes, bewitched. She’d settle into oversized pillows as dark as her hair and raise a glass of red wine to the moon. A salute to a lost lover I imagined. That saddened me, when it should’ve provided sweet solace, her being widowed, single, or at the least, unattached. It didn’t, though. Her loneliness pooled around her like a spilled drink. I drowned in it.
I made my home from home in the lowest branches of a dying oak located across the way from her home at the edge of an ancient wood. A dark place full of shadows, it suited my needs. An imagined guardian, a sentinel who’d never rest, never sleep, never look away, I patrolled those hours when others dreamed until she returned inside and my heart beat again. I couldn’t have looked away if the world had broken and Heaven dropped from the sky. If Death had come for me scythe in hand, I’d have bade him get on with it so I might come back as her personal ghost. I’d have haunted her forever without one complaint. She meant everything, and I didn’t even know her name.
She grew an array of plants which she displayed in earthenware pots. There were many flowers of many colours but most prominent were her snowdrops. This wasn’t unusual. But if I told you those snowdrops bloomed all year round, through summer sun and shine, it might’ve. And they did. They sat there bobbing their little white-capped heads like settled ghosts in a miniature graveyard. The same wind that always stirred the hammock, stirred them. I often licked my finger and held it to the sky, but never once felt a waft of breeze.
This was her world, her dark fantasy. For the longest time, it became my world, too.
Many early dawns, I’d return home from my vigils more desperate than when I’d left. Which one could be assured was a great deal. I’d slip under the sheets of my bed and weep. I wept regularly. She was the last thing I thought of when I went to sleep and the first when I woke. Spellbound. Always spellbound.
The greatest thrill came on the rare occasions she stepped from her porch, one revealed leg at a time. Eternity paused. She did this only when the world at its darkest, in those obsidian midnights where the moon feared to tread. She’d slide from her hammock with the poise of a hunting panther, stretch, arcing her back in a perfect curve, and tiptoe out onto her lawn. She never wore shoes. Her feet were always bare, toes twiddling, whatever the weather, season or shade. She painted her nails, both hands and feet, with black varnish and glitter so they sparkled like stars. Ten tiny galaxies were at her command, and every soul within them looked upon her as their nocturnal goddess.
Her walk was a thing of graceful beauty. She drifted rather than paced, slid rather than strolled. Her long skirt of claret red, crimson in the streetlights, black when not, gathered around her to conceal the limbs beneath. My own personal spectre, she led me away on a monthly regime of forest wanderings. Without a thought to feet which must surely have hurt, the pine needles and thorns scattered with such abundance, she’d silently sashay along paths only she knew. I trailed her without knowing how.
The river that marked the border between one place and the next was her favourite haunt. A dark shawl around the forest’s neck, this waterway beckoned her. She’d slip out of her garments like a snake shedding its skin and step into the oil dark water even if coated with ice. I’d shiver. She’d laugh. She never bathed, never swam, never even moved just allowed the water to coat her in liquid darkness, the moon strangely absent and stars fast asleep. When she emerged, I’d dare a step closer, a great lump in my throat and weight on my heart. Not for lascivious reasons. No, never this. For one reason and one reason only, that split second when she’d shake out her hair and I might spy her eyes. I longed for those moments each and every evening. I breathed them.
And so our dance went on, night after night, month after month, life after life, until it suddenly stopped.
I found her disappearance hard to swallow. Her porch remained empty, yet the lace that curtained her windows closed and drew back every single night and day. There was never a switched on light, but illuminations never were her thing. That was not odd but normal. Neither was there smoke from her chimney, but, again, she seemed not to require the warmth. The salient truth, she simply deigned not to appear. Was this through choice or persuasion? It bothered me. I was bothered.
The waiting was the hardest game. To want but not know almost killed me. I waited for three full moons to elapse, muscles tensed like steel, mind about to explode, before I made my move. If I hadn’t, I’d have gone mad. Some might’ve said I already had.
The night stood black as pitch, a thick soup that coagulated between one day and the next. I dressed all in black, not to impress, nor to cultivate her favour, but, instead, to remain unseen. Yes, it was my best suit. And, yes, I did wear a tie of black silk over a shirt the same, but they were all I had. How could I have saved her in anything less? As for the kitchen knife? Protection or provocation most likely, but I soon forgot. The streets were deserted, the short passage to the outskirts of the old town and her home, unimpeded. I stole upon her like a cloud the stars, venturing where no other dared.
The hammock fabric froze my fingers. I had to touch it. With no ocular stimulation, I sought to find her in a tactile memory. This failed. The snowdrops ducked and weaved as if in mockery.
As though oiled for my expected visit, the door opened into a kitchen bereft of all but empty cupboards, all their doors either removed or hung askew. I tiptoed into a hallway even more dilapidated, where cobwebs hung instead of pictures and dust made carpets of the floor. The place was as stale as three-week-old bread.
I should’ve spun on my heels and run away. Just fled to the hills and never turned back. I couldn’t though, for I knew her there.
Next came the staircase, like the river, a passage from one world to the next. My story grew stranger here. The staircase was of onyx or some such mineral, not wood, nor stone, nor crafted by man. Every step glistened like a universe polished to glasslike perfection. Every placed foot carried me a step deeper into magisterial night. The air thickened and clogged my throat. My eyes and feet grew heavy. Regardless, I advanced.
I stepped onto the first floor as through having scaled Mount Everest in one night without oxygen or aid. Tired to the point of exhaustion, I scoured the area; it was all changed. Like a weary traveller, lost and found, I appeared from obsidian caves into fabled Xanadu. Gone was the destruction, a place starved of life, instead, awed wonder. How could it be? Why didn’t I care? I couldn’t help but gasp.
The sounds of the night came as a great crescendo of wolf and owl and bat and more. Dipped in the infinite wonders of a world I’d never known, I reeled, swayed, fell to my knees. A cold sweat cascaded from my skin like a sponge wrung out by a giant. My hands clenched, throat gulped. I gasped… I grasped… I focused… I fought… And panting like a dog in the darkness, I slowly lifted my head. She was there awaiting my obeisance. My dark queen. She was everything! Everything and more. I dropped the knife that had found its way to my hand; it fell soundlessly to the floor.
She came to me as a midnight fog all curlicued darkness and unravelling mystery. She twirled like the most beautiful ballerina, one wrist raised, pale skin exposed, pulsing veins beating with life. But her eyes! How I died for her eyes. They burned my world in that unknown colour, her lips of darkest blue an oceanic accent to the sparkle above. She drew me. It was all she’d ever wanted. And although I should’ve known it madness, and although I might’ve wept, I kissed her, a lingering impression of death. I was glad I kissed her. It lasted forever.
She made me hers. I was hers.
Through oceans of night and dimensions the same, we travelled. She and me. Me and her. Two lovers in an endless embrace, we tripped over stars and dined on moons. Bliss, in some ways. Torture, in others. It had to end. Reality would not suffer our love. And so we returned, if ever we left? And so I changed.
A flower sunk in a soil of unknown origins, her porch became my home. Spellbound, just one of many flowers stirred by her winds, I died every day, only for her darkness to revive me each evening. And though my roots dove deep to tangle with all those others, and air and water and light were all I should’ve desired, still, I awaited her nocturnal visits. I craved them, nodding away the seconds of every single day until darker than dark, she appeared. She’d take up her rocking birth whispering words of sweet solace, her loving temptations, sitting so close as to touch, each of us hoping it he or she on whom she’d lavish her attentions. She never did. Instead, she’d smile from behind her curtained fringe as if to appease us, whilst I dipped lowest of all.
All I longed for was her eyes. It’s all I ever would.