It stares at me expectantly. The black, beady eyes shift back and forth as its head cocks from side to side, never breaking its line of sight. I can feel its gaze, its thoughts slipping into me. Or are they simply my thoughts? I’ve never really had many like them before, at least not that I’m aware. Of course, denial is a powerful tool, one that can make even the guiltiest feign innocence. Maybe I just don't want to accept that I’m as dark as the bird that sits outside my window; that I’m something different, something far darker than I could have ever anticipated. These thoughts are strong and I find such excitement in them. Even as I lay in bed, my heart races at the thought of being out in that night, doing what I know I must.
Despite this impulse, I know I must choose wisely and not let these new instincts, my instincts, overtake me. After all it’s easy to lose yourself to a new experience like this; it can be overwhelming and enticing. I don’t know what will happen if I get caught… or what it might do. After all, it is far more powerful than me. It knows truth; it can harness and cultivate the thoughts and ideas, notions and dreams of those around me, and from there give them to me so I can make my decision. So I can do as I see fit.
I like to tell myself that I don’t enjoy it but… I know that’s not true. I lie to myself because I want to remember that I’m still human, mortal, fallible. The problem is this power… I love it and I want nothing more than to let it overtake me.
“You are a pathetic waste!” My father screamed at me as I sat at the dining room table for what I was hoped would be the last meal with my family. It was the night before I went off to college and it was Mira’s, my step-mother’s, idea to have dinner together to wish me good luck before I went off to school. My father was drunk. Again. But there was new about that. Just hearing his voice made the bruise on my cheek throb; a silent reminder that being attracted to both women and men was completely out of question. I did my best to keep that tidbit tucked away inside the closet as best I could, but my step-sister, daddy’s little angel, outed me because I wouldn’t lend her a hundred bucks for a concert. She found out because she saw me kiss a crush a few weeks before, and on this occasion it happened to be a guy. I figured she’d tell my father right away because that’s the type of psychopath she was but I guess she wanted leverage. When that didn’t work she told him and I received a nice haymaker for my trouble.
His most recent outburst that evening was due to me getting into a small fender bender that wasn’t even my fault. Our insurance would have covered it, if it hadn’t lapsed. Apparently, my father neglected to pay it; for the past four months. So unbeknownst to me I had been driving around illegally. I only found out when I called our agent to report it and he told me the situation. So, I got a nice fat fine and an appointment for traffic court the next month to try and plead my case.
“John please.” Mira said, but my father slammed his fist against the table upsetting one of the two empty beer bottles.
“Am I talking to you?” My father screamed and once more Mira shut down as she often did. She offered me a demure glance and I knew that it was the best she could do. I gave a slight, very slight nod in recognition and a small smile broke across her face, if only for a moment. It was probably the first time she had smiled all week.
Across from me, Julie fought back laughter that had turned her face a brilliant crimson. My step-sister was not a good person. While I have never vocalized this to anyone, I’m pretty sure my father married Mira because he and Julie were secretly dating and it made hooking up easier. Julie was barely out of high school and my father was a man creeping into his fifties. This notion wasn’t pure conjecture on my part because one day when I came home early from work and I saw them going at it on the sofa. While she wasn’t spared my father’s heavy hand, it was clear it was more foreplay than punishment.
I, on the other hand, feared the despot that was partially responsible for my own existence. I say partially, because twenty seconds was as much effort as my father could no doubt provide since he spent half the day drunk and the other half passed out. My mother, God rest her soul, was the bread winner of our family and supported the entire household until she lost a battle between her and a semi. It was her insurance policy that kept us afloat until Mira came along and picked up the slack.
“I told you to be more careful around the cops, you little faggot.” My father said using his new favorite word for me. He had quite a few, but that hard F was his most recent one.
“I didn’t plan to get into an accident.” I said, immediately regretting my outburst.
Before I could even curse myself for speaking I felt a sharp pain in the side of my face where my father’s fist met my eye. I tumbled out of my chair and onto the floor with a heavy clatter. Though my daze, I heard a chair move, followed by a sharp bark that sounded distant as my ears rang. My hand, as if acting of its own accord, touched the side of my head that felt both hot and numb, followed by a sharp sting. My father’s ring had cut the side of my face open, just next to my eye.
The world quickly grew louder, clearer as the fuzziness in my head faded just as a vice like grip latched around my throat. As it did there was a deep, heavy pressure began to build in my head as my brain struggled for oxygen. My senses quickly returned as I realized that I was no longer able to breath. My eyes met with my father’s as he screamed at me, his face a brilliant shade of red as that vein in the middle of his forehead throbbed. I feebly clawed at my father’s thick, hide-like skin in a sad attempt to break free.
“Don’t you talk back to me you little shit!” He screamed, though once more his voice sounded far off. My memory is a bit fuzzy with regards to everything he shouted at me, the words growing more muted the longer he held my throat, but the next thing I knew I was coughing and gasping for air, my chest no longer feeling like it was going to explode.
I wiped tears from my eyes, the blood mixing with it to form a pinkish smear across my face. I said nothing as I quickly scrambled up to my room, slamming and locking the door behind me. I thought I heard him call something else but I wasn’t sure if it was at me or just in general. Under the overhead fan light, I examined my neck in the mirror. A dark purple bruise was already forming. The side of my head was starting swell but fortunately the bleeding subsided leaving a large congealed knot. I knew I had to clean it but it was something I would have to wait for until after my father was gone or otherwise occupied so I could sneak into the bathroom for supplies.
Staring at my image in the mirror, it was a sad reminder of the life that I had endured since I was born. Growing up, my mother had taken the brunt of my father’s abuse until she was violently thrown from her mortal coil; I was only four when she passed. He mourned for a grand total of an hour before moving on and with no punching bag available, he moved his attention to me and any other woman he happened to trick into bed. Mira was the latest in his cavalcade of misery.
That evening I sat in my room, counting down the minutes before I could clean myself up and maybe even head to school early. I didn’t care if I had to sleep in my car in a parking lot somewhere. I just wanted to get as far away from that life as possible. That was why I studied and worked so hard in order to get a scholarship. I wanted out. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life in that hole with people I didn’t even want to call my family. I was done.
It was almost nine when there was a knock on the door. I assumed it was either my father ready to give me another whoopin’ or my step-sister coming to gloat. I didn’t bother to call out, expecting them to simply try and force the door open. Instead there was just that light rap against the faux wood. I opened it, though hesitantly, and saw Mira standing in the hallway with a bag of ice, a bottle of iodine and some Band-Aids.
“Oh. Hi.” I said stunned. This was perhaps the first time Mira, in all the time that she had been with my father, ever came to patch me up. “I was sort of expecting John to come and teach me another lesson.”
“He took…” She paused as the words stuck in her throat and tears fell. I guess Julie and John’s relationship wasn’t as secretive as they thought. “He and Julie went to the movies.”
“You don’t believe that do you?” I asked, the words running out before I could stop it.
“No.” She managed. She looked away from me, eyes falling to the floor. I said nothing as I stepped aside allowing her into my room which was almost bare. Anything I wanted to bring was packed away in my car while everything else was tossed. All that remained was my bed and a desk that was older than me, but not as worn out.
Mira walked over to the desk with me following after. I sat down wordlessly as she handed me the bag of ice. Popping the cap, she soaked some cotton balls and tended to my wound. I winced at the sharp sting but said nothing. I had grown quite accustomed to not letting pain show. For the next ten minutes, Mira cleaned and bandaged the cut, which turned out to be smaller than it felt. Then, after I was patched up, Mira looked at my neck but there wasn’t much she could do.
During all of this I felt slightly uncomfortable. I think it’s because I never really got this sort of affection before, even when my mother was alive. She wasn’t a bad mom but much of her attention went to either pacifying my father or drowning her own sorrow. She loved me, that I’m pretty sure is true and she did her best given her situation, but he was an inferno, consuming everything nearby and leaving nothing but ash in his wake.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?” I asked finally breaking the silence. The utterance seemed to take her by surprise as she jumped at my voice.
“Um… sure.” She asked; though appeared extremely concerned with what I wanted to ask.
“Why are you with him?” I fired point blank. I was actually quite curious about this and since I wasn’t planning on coming back I had to know what it was about him that made her fall for him. He was a garbage, plain and simple. So what made her love him?
“It’s…” She started and even then I could see the gears turning in her head as she struggled to come up with a decent answer. It was clear to me that she too was trying to remember why she chose to marry him. “He… gave me attention. I’m… not exactly a catch you know.” She told me but that was ridiculous. She was older than me, and though not stunning she was pretty.
“That’s stupid, you know that right?” I said. She suddenly shied aware from my comment so I repeated, placing different emphasis, “That’s stupid, you know that, right?” This seemed to draw her gaze towards me, rather than push further away.
“I’m not…” She started, tears falling harder, “I’m an ugly, stupid…”
“Stop that.” I told her, my tone purposefully sharp. “Those are John’s words. You are not stupid. You deserve so much better than that… bag of dicks.” This made her laugh, a sound that was foreign to that house. It was a genuine, sweet tone that was like music to my ears. “He’s a bastard and you don’t deserve any of the shit he shovels your way. He’s the reason I studied so hard. I have to get away. He’s not balanced. I am certain that he’ll kill me if I don’t get out of here.”
“You don’t really think that do you?” She asked. I said nothing as I stared back at her.
“Mira, if you care about your safety, get out while you can.” I said. Mira looked away but I knew that my words left a mark. She was a good listener, had to be in order to put up with my father. “You’re a good person. And I’m sorry I’m leaving but I need to.”
“I know.” She said. “And I’m very proud of you. I don’t think I’ve ever told you that but I am. I haven’t known you that long and maybe I haven’t taken the time to get to know you as I should have but you are so smart and clever… maybe too much for your own good.” As she said that she smiled revealing the two missing teeth that had been knocked out by my father last year. “Be safe out there. It’s a dangerous world.”
“I’ll be alright.” I told her. “If I can handle John, I think I can handle anything.”
“You know, I really believe you can.” She said. “I love you, Tommy.” She said placing her hand on mine, “I… I wish I could have known you longer.”
“No you don’t.” I told her but before she could speak I continued, “Or else you would have known my father that much longer and no one deserves that.” Again Mira laughed. As she began to pull away I tightened my grip on hers for a moment as I said, “I love you too, Mira. And thank you.”
The next couple months were fairly unremarkable. I got to school with a full ride scholarship paying my tuition and boarding. I picked up a part time job at the local mega-mart to supplement my meager savings which for a college student was a king’s ransom. My roommate was a frenetic ball of energy who was double majoring in organic chemistry and biology with a double minor in physics and math. I’m pretty sure he slept about two hours a day, and none of it consecutively. He was a nice guy but I really didn’t see him much. When he wasn’t at the library, he was at the chemistry lab or some other science lab where he was crafting some sort of doomsday weapon. As a result I spent a great deal of time alone. I made few friends, but they were more like very good acquaintances rather than people I could really share with. While I did spend time with them, most days I just wanted to be alone.
It was around December when my world began to shift slightly askew. It was like any other day, the events completely bland and entirely uninteresting. I was sitting in the library reading a book, having finished my last final for the semester but not wanting to head back to the dorms yet. The smell of weed was strong in the hallway that day and it had filtered into my room giving me a headache. I had decent neighbors, but all they seemed to do was wake and bake. To each their own but it was annoying when I wanted to relax in my room. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I at least got a contact high but no dice.
I sat in a chair on the third floor, my mind losing focus on the book. I was still recovering from the chemistry test an hour before. I was pretty sure I did well but you couldn’t be too sure. I rarely perceive the world in absolutes; assuming there was some fraction of a percentage that something could go wrong. Anyway, my mind was wandering, attempting to digest the narrative that I just read and taking in none of it, and as I looked up at the rafters of the library I saw a bird perched over me. The library had an industrial feel; exposed metal beams and high ceilings so it felt more like a factory than place of study. The bird was sitting on an exposed I-beam and stared down at me.
The bird was all black, its feathers an inky darkness that seemed to absorb the bright lights from both the sun and the overhead lamps. It wasn’t the first time a bird had gotten trapped in the building. College campuses were filled with critters and sometimes birds would soar in through open doors and windows and get trapped inside. However it was the first time I had seen a crow inside a building. Most of the time it was smaller birds like sparrows and finches, something that could easily slip through small gaps. Crows were a bit larger and this one, even from that angle, looked giant. It cawed only once, the sound booming but not echo in the rafters. It was just a loud burst of noise that receded quickly.
Figuring it would get bored and fly off eventually, I looked away and turned my focus back to my book. I managed only a few more sentences before peered upwards once more and saw that the bird was gone. At the time I assumed it flew away or hopped out of sight so in the end forgot all about it. That is until a few days later when I received a phone call that changed my life forever.
I had been staying with a friend of mine just off campus. Students living in the dorms were exiled for winter break and so I had no place to go; my father’s house wasn’t an option. Fortunately, a friend was kind enough to let me stay with him during the interim. Adam was a frat boy but like many he was a truly great guy. I only mention the frat part because he spent more time with his brothers than at his apartment.
Adam was at the House doing some much needed repairs as it was falling apart from general wear and tear from the semester. I’m sure the parties didn’t help either. It was around noon when I got the phone call. I had been watching some old reruns of Maury Povitch and dozing off and on while lounging the couch. I didn’t have to work that day, one of my rare days off, and was feeling pretty relaxed. There was something comforting about not being constantly berated or attacked by a psychopath. Plus I didn’t have to worry about my idiot step-sister snooping around my room or making my life miserable.
The light chirp of my phone pulled my mind away from Maury just as he was about to announce if the deadbeat in a wife-beater was indeed the father to the overly promiscuous woman’s children. I picked up the phone and saw a number I didn’t recognize. It wasn’t a local area code but instead one from where I used to live. It was possible it was one of the few friends I had back in town who got new a new number, so I answered it. However I was surprised when I realized the voice on the other end wasn’t anyone I recognized.
“Is this Tommy Layton?” The voice asked, gruff and gravelly.
“Speaking, who’s this?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“This is Detective Mark Miller.” He said. The word ‘detective made me shiver down to my core. “Are you free to speak?”
“Yeah… um I mean… yes. What’s going on?” I asked with an uneasiness in my voice.
“I’m afraid I’m calling to inform you that your step-mother, Mira Layton has passed away.” He told me and despite the harshness of his voice I knew there was true emotion in there.
“What… what…what happened?” I asked, stunned.
“She was found at home dead. We found some bags packed and a crumpled note that said she was leaving your father.” He said; the words echoing from far off as my mind receded into an inner space of safety. I nodded though I had forgotten he couldn’t see me. “Did you know she was planning on leaving?” I thought back to our latest correspondence and while she did not say she was going to leave him, the idea was there.
“No.” I said, “I mean not exactly no, but I know she was thinking about it.”
“Now I know this is hard for you but would you be willing to answer some questions for me?” The detective asked.
“Um… yeah… sure.” I managed. Even as I spoke I only thought of that innocent woman who wanted simply to be loved. I cared about her, like a friend that you wanted to know better but circumstance never really allowed it. Now she was gone, but even as I thought this, a deep burning anger flickered to life in my stomach. My heart raced faster as connections and ideas were made as to who could have done this to her.
“How would you define the relationship between your father and your mother?” The detective asked.
“Step-mother,” I corrected, only half aware that I had done so, “Um…” As I turned my gaze upward slipping back into the world outside myself, I saw a bird sitting on the ledge staring at me. Its black eyes were fixed on me, its head cocking slightly. At first I thought it was a crow, but it was far too large to be one. I have seen crows around campus, popping up every so often and picking up trash that was left out by my fellow students, but this one was at least twice the size of one of those.
It was as I stared at the bird I could feel myself talk but the words didn’t feel like my own. I felt my throat and chest vibrate as sounds erupted from my mouth but I was not the one speaking. They came from me autonomously but not robotically. There was emotion, understanding, realism but I had no part in it. In fact the words seemed to be coming from the bird. I knew it was impossible but I could hear them in a voice that was not my own. Those ideas slipped from silent thought to active words. It was then I remembered the crow from the library but even as I considered that word I realized it was incorrect. I had looked up birds one evening while having fallen into a Wikipedia rabbit hole. I somehow found my way onto the topic of ornithology and discovered that while similar there was delineation between Crows and their cousins, the Ravens. And that was what this bird was. It was a Raven.
“I really don’t know.” The Raven told the detective, “I didn’t spend a lot of time at home but I know that he loved her very much.” This voice that sounded like mine said. It was a complete and utter lie but I couldn’t stop it.
“Did you notice any signs of abuse, any indication he was violent?” The detective asked me.
“Sometimes, but again I didn’t spend much time at home.” Again, I lied. I suspect he knew I was lying but didn’t press the subject. I figured he thought I was either in shock or in denial. Either way, he continued on.
“When was the last time you spoke to your father?”
“The day before I left for college.” I said and this one was actually true. No need to lie because I hadn’t spoken, seen, or heard from him since that night. He didn’t come back the following morning, no doubt sleeping off whatever he and my step-sister were doing the night before.
“What about your Step-mother? When did you last hear from her?” He asked.
“Last week, it was a letter. She sends… sent me letters fairly often.” I said and again I didn’t lie. Mira and I kept quasi regular correspondence. She wrote letters to me, sending them in the mail. I suppose if she emailed me, my father could find out and punish her for some reason or another. The last letter was short but she congratulated me on my good grades and told me how proud she was. She always told me how proud she was.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to call you again if we have any more questions.” He said and I mindlessly agreed. I would have anyway, but the Raven was speaking for me.
“That’s fine. Have… have a good… goodbye sir.” And then I hung up. The phone slipped from my fingers, landing on the carpet with a soft thud. I blinked several times as my body seemed to awaken and that distance snapped close in an instant. As I shook my head, trying to clear the fuzziness from my thoughts I looked out the window once more and saw that the Raven was gone.
My father was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and second degree murder. From what I learned through news articles and broadcasts, he was found at a motel in a neighboring state with Julie. Given the obvious relationship the two shared, she was charged as an accomplice but they were to be tried separately. The court dates weren’t for another year, thank you judicial system, and because they were poor as hell, no one put up the bail and so they were to spend that time in prison. I was never thought of as a person of interest, not only because there had been no contact between me and them, but because I had been over a thousand miles away and surrounded by about two thousand students during the time of the murder.
I returned home only once to work with an attorney to tie up the loose ends of my father and Mira’s property. With no will the courts would have to figure out what to do with the assets but I did learn that apparently Mira’s job had a very good insurance policy that paid out a great deal of money if she happened to die from an unexpected cause. If she were murdered, there was a policy that paid out double to the survivor and since my father and her biological daughter were the cause, it would go to the next of kin which was legally me. Because of Mira, I was eventually entitled almost two million dollars. It was as if she were trying to help me one last time, even after her death. I remember crying the night I came to that realization and not stopping until I eventually passed out.
The nights that followed Mira’s death and my father’s arrest, I discovered I couldn’t sleep. The school year was starting up once more and the campus was again filled with classes and studying, parties and events. The biting cold kept many people indoors and animals that hadn’t migrated were hibernating, waiting for that spring thaw; but every night and every day I saw that Raven perched outside of my window, in class, at the dorm, sitting in the raters of the library. The Raven followed me wherever I went, appearing where it shouldn’t have been.
I tried showing my friends the bird but the moment I pointed it out it was gone or if it was there they wouldn’t be able to see it. I quickly received the nickname Birdman from them which, of monikers, wasn’t the worst. It was better than what they could have said if they knew I was directly related to a killer who was, for lack of a better word, incestuous. They may not have been blood relatives but it was still epically disgusting.
It was around spring when things with the Raven came to a head. During most of the time the Raven followed me, it was innocuous, only existing and not really interfering with my life; save for that one moment when I learned Mira died. I considered that maybe the bird was protecting me in some way, speaking for me but I couldn’t understand why it lied. That was the first and only time the Raven spoke to me and even though I’ve tried speaking to it, privately of course, it never replied. Then one night, everything changed.
I was coming home from a party, feeling pretty good; a little tipsy but not drunk. I didn’t get drunk, I refused. Generally after one drink I stopped myself and just rode that wave until it ended. Too many bad memories stemmed from alcohol and drove my need to stay on that particular wagon. It was late and I wasn’t really focusing on the world around me. I didn’t hook up that night but I spent a lot of time making with a cute girl from my advanced calculous class with the intention on asking her out on an official date and not simply groping each other in the corner of a packed room.
What pulled me back to that night wasn’t the sound of someone running at me but instead the loud caw of a bird. The moment I heard it, my senses seemed to sharpen and my attention narrowed. I turned to search for what I assumed was the Raven and that was when I saw someone almost on me, his fist already flying forward. If I hadn’t turned he would have struck in the back of the head. I managed to duck out of the way, the fist just missing. This man stumbled forward but I saw that he wasn’t alone. There were two others charging me.
Now, I am not a formidable person; not threatening, not a fighter. I weighed a little over a buck ten and even that felt generous. My father tossed me around like a rag doll and he was not a particularly fit individual. I never learned how to fight, let alone fight back. I avoided confrontations as often as I could but when it was completely unavoidable I did the only thing I knew how: I ran.
Finding my feet I bolted down the street toward my dorm. The party was almost two blocks away from campus and I knew I had a long run in front of me. Unfortunately, the guys, three townies by the looks of it, were pursing and gaining quickly. They were larger, solid looking and could easily snap me in half. As a rule, the townies and the co-eds didn’t get along. College students were seen as snobs, spending thousands of dollars and be all uppity while the townies were rednecks and hicks. It was often recommended, quietly of course, to avoid the townies if possible but it seemed they were not under the same restrictions.
I barely made it a block before I felt a sudden force knocked me to the street. I tumbled, managed to roll and planted my feet but as I shot my head up a fist connected with my face and stars exploded behind my eyes. My head snapped to the side, my body moving along with it as I tumbled to the pavement. A second later a felt a heaviness on my stomach as the townie mounted me. In the distance, beyond the hoots and hollers of my attackers, I heard the sound of a bird, of a Raven, cawing into the sky.
The man, boy really by his surprisingly youthful features, smiled wildly. He was young, perhaps a teenager but in that moment he had the stare of a maniac. His eyes were wide and shimmered in the dim street light, and I was met with the hot stink of alcohol on his breath. He brought his fist up, the ropy muscles pressing tightly against the underside of his skin. There was a look in this man’s eyes that I had seen many times before. He was ready to strike, to destroy the boy that lay on the ground underneath him. Overhead the Raven cawed over and over again, sounding its own distress call.
He pulled back his arm, fist tight and it was as he brought it forward it stalled. I flinched, expecting horrific pain but as my eyes slid back open I saw that this reprieve was not done of his own accord. I watched as his head snapped to the side and I saw that there were dark, black fingers, around his sun-damaged arm. In one swift motion the man was thrown off of me but he didn’t simply topple to the pavement. Instead, he was propelled across the street, slamming into a fire hydrant. His body appeared to fold in half the wrong way as the air was filled with a resounding snap.
The other men who were with him stood rooted to the ground as this strange figure approached. Though his back was to me I could tell the figure was tall, ebony skinned, and adorned in a cloak that was covered, constructed perhaps, with feathers. The feathers were black as the night itself but when light shone upon them they gleamed with a brilliant sheen. They reminded me of a raven’s feathers, possessing a familiar shine like light against black oil. The men tried to run but this figure ran far faster. No, that’s not right. He didn’t run, instead simply was there in front of them. Before one man could shriek, the figure touched his forehead and the man unleashed a terrible scream that echoed into the night sky but died just as quickly as he collapsed to the ground. As his head lolled to the side, his eyes met with mine but they were empty, glassy, lifeless.
I heard the second man scream and looked up to see this figure holding him in the air with a single hand. The man shrieked for help but no one came to his aid. Impossibly, the lights from the neighboring houses remained dark. It was as if no one could hear him. It was only a moment later that his body went limp and this figure dropped him to the ground. I watched all of this horrified and had completely forgotten about running away. This figure had killed three men without a single word or hesitation. He moved impossibly fast, appeared out of nowhere. And now with those three men disposed of, my heart sank as I realized he was shifting his attention towards me.
As he turned, his cloak sweeping around with a flourish, I found myself staring into the eyes of the most handsome man I had ever seen. It wasn’t a sexual attraction, strangely enough, rather an acknowledgement that he was absolutely gorgeous. I was both terrified and drawn to him at the same time. His dark, chocolate skin was perfectly smooth, his features remarkably gentle for someone who just murdered three men. Below his cloak of feathers I saw his completely nude form; lean but strong, his muscles practically etched into his skin like that of an obsidian statue.
“Please… don’t kill me.” I begged. My body trembled, heart racing as this figure approached. A cold sweat ran in torrents and as I tried to swallow, I heard only a dry clicking in my throat. As I spoke, the man, this beautiful man, cocked his head curiously—and with odd familiarity.
“Why would I kill you?” The man asked. He stood over me, his eyes gazing into mine and I saw a strange tenderness within them.
“You… you killed them?” I said looking to the three men who now lay dead.
“Their intention was to harm you. I could not allow this.” The man said.
“I have watched you for many months, seen the strength of your soul despite the hardships you have endured.” He told me and by now I was more stunned than scared. I slowly rose to my feet, the man simply watching as I moved; cocking his head like that of a crow, or a Raven.
“Who are you?” I asked him.
“I have been called many things, but you call me Raven.” He said.
“What? I… I never called you anything, I don’t know who you even are?” I told him. But that wasn’t true. It wasn’t that I knew his face, his body, his voice. It was instead that I knew his presence. A sensation that was familiar, one I only felt when I was around the strange bird that followed me wherever I went.
“You know me as Raven.” The man repeated.
“You said your name was Raven.” I told him, “That day in my friend’s apartment. You said to trust you and you said that your name was Raven.”
“That is because the word was in your mind, I simply pushed it forward and you have called me Raven ever since.” He said.
“How is that possible? How is any of this possible?” I asked. “I mean… what… what… are you?”
“Some would call me Reaper. Others, harbinger of death. I am judge and jury, and only when the occasion calls, executioner. These had to be punished in order to protect you.” Raven motioned toward the bodies of the fallen townies.
“Why? Why did you save me?” I asked him.
“I have come to you because you desired it.” He said.
“What? I… I never wanted to kill anyone!” I exclaimed but as he cocked his head I knew that was a lie. I had wanted to kill someone: my father. More than once I begged for his death, pleaded for it.
“You desired, not death, but justice. I tried to keep your father from being imprisoned so that real justice may be administered but your law enforcement works remarkably quickly. They apprehended him far more efficiently than anticipated.” Raven said.
“You were going to kill my father?” I asked.
“No, you were to be the one to do it.” He told me. I laughed, the sound humorless in that night of death.
“And how would I go about doing that?” I asked, “Just walk up and stab him?”
“No.” Raven said, “You will act as my avatar, channeling my power and harnessing the gift of death.”
“Gift… I don’t want a gift like that.” I said pointing towards the dead. “That’s not a gift. Hurting people is not a gift, believe me I know.” I said, “I am not a monster. I am not a killer! Do you hear me?” And with that I turned, done with what Raven had to say. I didn’t care if he was some entity offering me power over life and death, I just wanted to go back to my room and shut out the rest of that night, the rest of the world. I only made it a single step before stopping.
“What if you had the power to stop him and save Mira?” He asked. “She wouldn’t have had to die. Your father would be dead and so she would have lived. And what of your mother? She could have been there for you, cared for you and given you the life you always wanted. There are hundreds of millions of those who hurt and kill because they enjoy it or care so little for others they have no regard for life. Their path will always end in death. The only question is: when? Do you wait until they have lived their lives, destroying many in the process, or do you nip bud before it blooms? Kill the weed before it chokes the garden.”
The mere thought, the simple notion that I could have save Mira made me take pause. I wasn’t ready to join this being’s crusade but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued. I thought about how different my life would have been without my father. If I could have snuffed him out before my mother had died, or if at the very least after he met Mira, then maybe I would have had a far better, more peaceful life. I could have been happy, Mira could have been happy. My mother could have been alive and none of this would have ever had happened.
“And what would you have me do?” I asked, only offering a backwards glance.
“I am judge and jury.” He said. “I can peer into hearts and souls. I know who deserves punishment and who deserves lenience. “I simply need an executioner to dole out punishment.”
“Why not just do it yourself?”
“Judgement must be carried by another. These men died because they wished to harm my intended avatar, a loophole in the rules. You would be the one to confront these monsters and using my vast power, you will know their sins, their darkest desires.” Raven explained. “The only question is: will you accept my offer?”
I considered what Raven said and what I knew to be true. I sighed, turned back to Raven who was watching me expectantly and said, “Well…I haven’t said no to a naked man yet.” And smiled.
The room was plain, barren. The tables and stools were bolted to the floor with bars lining the windows and doors. In the distance I heard the buzz of alarms and the clatter of doors as they slid back and forth allowing those to enter and leave at the behest of the overseers. I looked up at the clock that was protected by the steel mesh cage and saw it was almost noon. I had been waiting for over a half hour but I didn’t care. My patience extended further than it normally would and I knew that had to do with the mark that now rested on my wrist.
There was a light buzz as the door swung open and I was greeted by a dour face in an orange jumpsuit. His hands and feet were shackled as he was escorted in by two strong looking guards. That look of surprise on his face made me feel in control for the first time in my life. I was the one who was coming to him. I had to fight my growing smile and remember that was there with a purpose. As he approached I glanced at the barred window and saw a beaked face staring at me. Raven was perched right outside the window, watching and waiting. I could feel his anticipation as we both knew this man was rife with sin, with true evil.
“Well lookie here.” My father said as he took a seat. I looked up at the guards and nodded, offering a grim smile.
“You have ten minutes.” The guard said before turning away and stepping through the door, locking it behind him.
I looked around me and saw cameras posted in every corner of the room. I wondered if there were mics as well, but quickly Raven whispered in my head telling me that they could only see, not hear. Again I fought my smile as it tried to creep up my face. I had never felt so powerful before and it was terrifying. I forced myself to push the thought from my head, reminding me that I was not a god, merely a man with a gift, one that could easily be turned against me.
I could feel Raven whispering in my head but it wasn’t words. Instead they were ideas, notions, thoughts, and they were neither his nor mine. They were my father’s. I could see him striking my mother as she worked to silence a crying child. I could feel the dark, sickly pleasure as he violated my step-sister while she laughed and screamed and moan in pure bliss while his wife slept in bed alone. I could feel the stickiness of the blood on his knuckles as he stared down at Mira who was clinging to life as she struggled for breath through a shattered face. These were the sins that Raven had told me about. This was how he knew who was innocent and who was guilty. The darkness of the soul was tangible to him, to me. And it was unbearable.
“Hello John.” I said no longer able to hold back my smile. “I’d be lying if I wasn’t overjoyed to see you behind bars. Make any new ‘friends?’” I made air quotes with my fingers and offering him a wink.
“I ain’t no queer, you little faggot.” He hissed as he tried to lunge at me but his chains restricted his movements.
“Okay, first off, no need for that language.” I said with perhaps with a bit more smugness than needed, “And secondly that’s only half true.”
“So what, come here to gloat?” He growled.
“More or less.” I teased, “And I must say I do enjoy the jumpsuit. It’s fetching.”
“If my hands…” He started but I didn’t let him finish. I knew what he wanted to say, I could feel it drift from him into my mind. I could almost see him slamming my head into the table until there was nothing left but a bloody smear. His thoughts and hatred slipped into me like a hot blade. He was jealous that I was free, that I was getting millions of dollars from the woman he murdered, that I was happy, elated in fact, but that wasn’t a word I expected him to know.
“You’d bash my brains in, etcetera, etcetera. Listen I didn’t come to gloat, I really didn’t. I just came to tell you something.” I said folding my hands.
“Yeah and what’s that?” He asked. I leaned in close, my father leaning in as well. I knew that if I got close enough he would try to lunge at me again. Even without my new found gifts I knew him very well.
As we were mere inches from one another, I simply whispered, “I simply wanted to say goodbye… and good riddance.”
There was a level of confusion that was obvious but this was masked by the sudden flush of red as his muscles seemed to tighten. I saw his chest heave up and down as sweat broke out all over. He dropped from the seat and would have collapsed to the floor if not from the shackles that kept him secured to the table. A moment later the door buzzed open and the guards came rushing in. One called over the radio for a paramedic while the other worked to remove the shackles. It wouldn’t do them any good though. He would be dead long before they arrived.
While the guards worked to save the life of that monster I looked back towards the window and saw Raven flapping his wings excitedly. It was my first blood, my first execution and he was exhilarated. No. No, that’s a lie. I was exhilarated and that both excited and terrified me.
I lay in bed now with Jenny fast sleep. My father’s death was over a week ago but it still feels like it was only yesterday. I glance over at her and can’t help but smile. In the morning she will sheepishly leave my dorm room to endure the walk of shame but there is nothing shameful about it. A night of pleasure, of passion should never be looked down upon or judged by those who would do the exact same thing if given the option. I was the one that called her and what happened between us was something we both desired. I will walk with her so that she will not be alone in the stares and snickers. No one should ever feel alone. And I never will be. Even after she leaves and I am by myself I won’t be alone. I have a new friend, a passenger in my life that will never leave me. And I can’t be any happier.
Even as I stare out the window, with my arm around her, I can see Raven begging with me, pleading to find another to judge. There is a man who has been prowling the campus for the past month. He has already successfully attacked a female student and I can feel him searching for another. I’m pretty sure I can sneak out and be back before Jenny wakes. Campus security and the police are yet to even find this man and it has emboldened him but I think it’s time that this man knows there’s a new predator on campus. I am its guardian and as long as I am here no one shall be a victim again. After all, as Poe once wrote those many years ago: Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”