An Unkindness of Ravens

Class Dismissed

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“You’ve highlighted your hair again! Love the colour,” Meghan said, as she chewed on a stick of bubble gum while twirling her auburn hair. “The girls and I are going to the finale tonight, did ya hear?” The scent of raspberry and cleaning chemicals filled the air.

“I haven’t heard from anyone yet, but oh my goodness, it sure sounds like it would be delightful.” Laura said, just before the school bell rang to start another dreary Monday morning.

“Suzy is now going steady with Garry. They’re like the bestest of friends, did ya hear?” Meghan asked.

The old copy of Dorian Gray slipped from Laura’s hand falling hard on the hallway floor. Kelly approached and snatched the book from the floor before Laura could reclaim it. Droves of students made their way down the stairs to get to their classrooms before the resentful Mr. Love began his rounds to herd the tardy. He was already close to fulfilling his quota for this evening’s detention.

“Hmmm, any love letters to Meghan’s boyfriend in here, Laura?” Kelly asked with a smugness that only Helly-Kelly could muster. “Oh, and hiii Meg,” she said, then smiled showing off her pearly whites.

“Give it back, Kel,” Laura said while reaching for the book.

“Make me bitch.”

Meghan continued before Kelly could go on: “The girls and I are going out for burgers and shakes on Friday, did ya hear? No, no you didn’t—you did not. Do you wanna know why, Laura? It’s because you’re a backstabbing bitch! That’s why, Laura. A backstabbing bitch!” Meghan chomped on her bubble gum showing Kelly her beaming face, quite proud with the artfulness of her attack!

Backstabbing bitch!
Backstabbing bitch!
Backstabbing bitch!

The hallway echoed these words, but only in the confines of Laura’s own mind. She envisioned the river of blood that was to flow from Meghan’s head at the bottom of the staircase. She envisioned the heartless Mr. Love performing CPR on her lifeless little body. She envisioned a romantic evening at the Drive-in with Stanley—his hand slowly making its way up her leg.

“…well, it all kinda seemed like a good idea at the time, teehee.” she would later write in her journal at 32 Division.

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Gordon and Main

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…Choose to put whatever you want into your body, people, but I’m not basing my diet on unscientific rhetoric from those wishing to exploit the ignorance of the population while at the same time padding their own bank accounts.   Perhaps you agree. Perhaps that pisses you off. Whatever your take. Your phone calls at the top of the hour.  This is Talk 67.1. We’ll be back after… and after an uncomfortable moment of silence the announcer inadvertently asked 450 unsuspecting listeners the question: Am I able to say that on the air? That’s when the Oldsmobile speakers blared static. He turned off the ignition, stepped out of the car and onto the soil of Greensborough, or was it dog shit?

Seth threw a sweaty tissue into the old oil barrel—now trash can—as the family approached. The tissue landing on top of a half-eaten apple discarded earlier by the mute child.

“A real scorcher of a day today,” Seth said.  The mother acknowledged with a half smile as they passed by. He turned back when after hearing thud thud, “You gonna need some help with those jars there, Ma’am?”

“No, they’re fine.” a man said from behind, interrupting his wife in midspeech. The children collected the jars off the ground and stuffed them into a bag and hurried away.

“Well, you folks have yourselves a nice day,” Seth replied, while adjusting his collar—something he would do whenever he was nervous or embarrassed.  His mother used to say that he played with his collar in an effort to divert the eyes of onlookers away from his red face.

***

The shopkeeper stood in the corner of the store and appeared to be restocking the shelves with jars of jelly. “Where’s a guy supposed to get a drink in this old town?” Seth said—startling the girl. She swung around causing one of the jars to crash on the ground.   Despite her grotesque appearance—tiny beady eyes and yellow teeth, most still visible even with her lips at rest—she spoke softly and eloquently: “I’m very sorry, sir, I should not be here. They will punish me.  They say that I will scare the people away!”

“Who’s they? And that’s got to be one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard today!” he said, placing a bottle of bourbon he found on the counter.  “What in good God’s name could a lovely little girl like you possibly do to scare anybody away?” he said, and adjusted his collar.

“She’s coming, I will have to leave now,” she said, and swiftly dropped a jar of jelly into the pouch she had tied around her waist, then vanishing outside.

A woman with horn-rimmed glasses entered from the back and into the storefront. “I’m gone for a minute, only to return to what looks like a mob hit on my nice and clean floor!” Seth began to help the woman pick the shards of glass up. “I’m sorry, I must be tired, I’ve must’ve been driving for hours.”

“Where you headed?”

“Rosedale, on business.”

“Oh,  you’d better get some rest,  you’ve a long way to Rosedale, sir!” she said. “There’s a Bed and Breakfast just off highway 47 at Wellington.  I had just recommended it to a young family just passing through… You can put the glass in the cardboard box beside the register. ”

“I’m quite aware of the Bed and Breakfasts in the area.  How much for the bourbon and Jelly? I suppose that’ll be two jars.” he said, pulling out his wallet.

The woman looked at Seth in disbelief and shook her head.  “Oh no, you just owe me for what you’re leaving with, sir.”

***

He turned the dial to the right, then all the way to the left. Still static. His front pocket began vibrating.

“Yes-hello, Seth speaking…”

“Hey stranger… you stormed out of here so fast this morning, you forgot your pain meds on the kitchen counter. Sammy almost flushed ’em down the toilet again. You holding up okay?”

“I’ll be fine—how is Sammy?… How are you?”

“Just a sec, Sammy wants to say something.”

“Hi Daddy. Happy burrrday…”

“Thank you, sweet pea. I’ll be home in a couple of days and we can share some chocolate cake together, alright?”

The girl from the store appeared in the rear view mirror. Her beady eyes; her strawberry coloured lips; her protruding teeth; for a second reminding him of the pain and urgent dental work that’ll be required once he returns home. She vanished before he could see which direction she was heading.

“Honey, put your mom back on the phone.”

She took the phone back from Sammy: “Really Seth? You can’t even take a minute to talk to your daughter? Business must be really boomin’!”

“Deb, wait!”

“Goodbye, Seth”

Call Ended

The hiss from the radio was now deafening. He killed the noise and exited the vehicle looking for any sign of the little girl. An unkindness of ravens above the general store diverted his attention. A makeshift sign on store door read: BACK IN 10 MIN

The crying, that awful crying. “Where are you, sweet girl?” I won’t let them harm you anymore, just tell me where you are!” The empty jar lay in the grass, shimmering from the afternoon sun. The sobbing grew louder. Seth could see her white shoes peek out from behind a tree trunk in the distance and ran towards them. A white dove flew overhead…

She tilted her head forward and with a hoarse, phlegm-full scream, the girl said: “Hey fucker, wanna dance?” She leaped to her feet. Her arms grasped at Seth’s torso, just before the woman with the horn-rimmed glasses aimed and fired the shotgun—sending remnants of the girl’s head onto the grass and shimmering glass jar.

“You really aren’t from around here are ya, mister?”

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Rendezvous at Red Rock

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Just before dawn, scads of them drop from the ceiling and surround their host to feed. Without conscience, and acting solely out of evolutionary instinct they inject the host with the anesthetic agent inducing it into a deeper slumber, then feed fervently on its blood.  This infestation, this manifestation of animal interactions in an intrinsic world. Man is an animal, be damned! he would often tell the clergy. One of the reasons why Douglas Wyatt joined the priesthood at such an early age.   The rectory, with all his misgivings was still a step up from what his father would call, his childhood home with the dilapidated  roof, a home with a view to the heavens.  There were many a night he would awake feverish and wet from the rain. Though it wasn’t him that would succumb to pneumonia and infection, it was his elders.

“The markings of the devil!” she yelled as he passed her carriage. Wyatt’s horse raised its heads and snorted. “Utter nonsense, Miss Russell!” he retorted and felt his neck making sure there wasn’t any more welts since last inspection. This was a historic day.  A day when justice would prevail and drunkards would finally have reason to celebrate!  The Nagalsty sisters were to be hung for reasons of sorcery involving the murders of 12 local children.  Wyatt, among the many other spectators, was there to witness and partake in the event, but first there was another matter that needed attention.  Wyatt dismounted from his carriage and went inside the saloon.

The dreary Snake-Eyes saloon reverberated from the sound from Rosemary’s chair as it rocked back and forth on the irregular floor.   Through the dusted window she could see one of the drunkards regain some level of consciousness, all the while making an ungraceful attempt at reclaiming some lost sleep whilst in the vertical position.  His urine soaked pants reminded Rosemary of an dispossessed child without their mother.  A sick Collie, abandoned and unable to fend for itself in the wild. The saloon reeked of whiskey, cabbage and gunpowder.  In the distance, Ignatius sat at a table loading his pistol in preparation for his rendezvous at Red Rock with the village idiot.

“Father Wyatt, a pleasure for you to finally join us,” Rosemary said.  “A drink? Perhaps I can get you something to clean your wounds?”

“Unnecessary, thank you.”

“Will you be joining in the outside festivities, Ignatius?” Wyatt asked.

“His mother is frightened, Father Wyatt.” Rosemary said before Iggy could reply. “He’s in heaps of trouble with that village idiot, Cooper.

“Rose…” Iggy tried to interject.

She continued: “Whilst in a sudden state of delirium Cooper brazenly accused Iggy of filching some of his gold dust off of the saloon floor.  Stubborn and drunken, he challenged him to a duel at Red Rock.”

“Yes, I see.”

“I implore you Father, I implore you to talk some sense to the boy.”

Sammy burst in through the parlour doors taking in with him the foul stench from horse defecation: “Ohhh an assembly, such a grand assembly!” Sammy’s daughter, the sole survivor to be pulled from the well.  It was rumoured around town that the Nagalsty sisters captured and murdered only the purest of children for their reproductive organs. Only the scurrying of rats could be heard after Sammy’s latest grandiose entrance. Father Wyatt, trembling in his speech, but authoritatively said slowly: “What did you do?”

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“It ain’t about killing a man, it’s about honour,” Ignatius said to Father Wyatt as he put the final bit of powder in his pistol.   They both sat at the table engaged in conversation, but the crowd outside was becoming tumultuous.

“I’m afraid I’ve over stayed my welcome.”

Ignatius took a final swig from the bottle and visualized himself in a warm morning sun surrounded by wildlife in desert vegetation.  The dreary saloon with its clanking whiskey bottles, glasses and an old piano morphed into a serene landscape with a vibrant array colours.  He found himself in the midst of nature—with the sound of hooves approaching from the distance.

Cooper with his second, Reuben “Fist” Baker, were approaching by horseback.  The sun peeked over their broad shoulders casting a long, narrow shadow over the desert sand.   Ignatius spat due south,  noting any change in wind direction and speed. His second, Sam “Toothless” Horn completed marking the sand where Ignatius would either cross as a victor, or lie across as a bloodied victim.

“B’hoy you look dusted and in to the dynamite again, you sure you right in the head?” questioned Cooper whilst he dismounted his horse.

“Ain’t the time, Cooper, I’ve still got work to do.  We need to getiton,” retorted Ignatius.

Baker positioned himself between the two and commenced with the final instructions:

“Gentleman, you have both agreed to the rules prior to our meeting today, so I trust that there are no grievances at this time?   As agreed upon, I will proceed with a count from the number one to ten. Subsequently, Mr. Sam Horn shall drop the handkerchief signalling you to draw your pistols and fire.” Cooper’s  horse raised its head and snorted.  Baker looked both of them in the eye, to ensure that his words were being understood.   “Very well then gentleman, please proceed to your positions.”

Ignatius faced south, Cooper north—thirty paces between them.  Cooper slowly wiped away beads of sweat from his brow, whilst Ignatius stood dormant in anticipation of the count.

ONE

Ignatius drew his weapon and fired a single shot striking Cooper’s neck.  Cooper’s left hand clasped at his neck, whilst blood spewed from between his fingers, the loss of blood inevitably causing him to drop to his knees, and the rest of him to fall forward into the sand.  Baker and Horn exchanged fire.  Baker hit Horn in the chest, but before falling he was able to send a bullet into Baker’s forehead.  With two dead, and one barely clinging to life, Ignatius made his way over to Cooper.  With his left hand he grabbed a tuft of his Cooper’s hair and with his right—his blade.  After removing a portion of Cooper’s scalp, he climbed back onto his horse then stuffed the bloody skin into his pouch.  At that very moment, about 2 miles south, The Nagalsty sisters swung back and forth at the bottom of ropes as an unkindness of ravens flew overhead, eventually to find and feed on the remains of those who have perished at Red Rock.

Ignatius rode into the distance, he was tired, but there was still more work to do.

Crimson Door

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C o m m e n c e m e n t

Resplendent light illuminates the track tonight

its skeleton in strobing light

Under the caliginous sky

they make their final descent

Hoarse screams all abound

pungent smells all around

They peer through shuttered eyes

to ameliorate their darkened hearts

The C o m m e n c e m e n t 

Far from the atmosphere

their spacesuits now linger near…

“Whataya working on, Mitch?”  Mission Specialist Dubov said, startling Mitch as he entered the centrifuge.  He tossed up an old marble once belonging to his son, and with the marble falling and resting in his palm again he went on:  “The crew says you’ve been despondent because of the new trajectory… Listen, it’ll only be another 3 Earth days till we touchdown… lookin’ forward to running a lap or two.”

“I’m sorry if I’m hindering spirits here, Dub, but I’m just looking for a little time away from… from…”

“Poetry, huh?” Dubov interrupted.  “I used to write Olga poetry when we were going through the cancer treatments.”  Dubov sat down at the table removing a quill pen from a nylon pouch. “The crew and I weren’t supposed to know either until we were home with our families.  I’m sorry you had to find out the news from Haman… How far along was she?”

“Just 4 Months this time.”

“Listen, take this pen, and instead, write Laurie in ink.”  Dubov placed the pen down next to Mitch’s communications device.  “Whatever you’re wanting to say to her right now may be distorted by the troubles we’ve been having on this ship.  Let’s take things slower, alright?”

Oxygen level… depleting, the onboard Darwin 7200 sounded throughout the spacecraft.

“Mitch, the truth is, we’ve been in contact with Laurie through Houston and we’re quite aware of the communications you’ve been sending her over the last 48 hours.  Now’s not the time to give up goddamn it.  She needs you—the crew needs you.”

Starsp

“I won’t do it,” Mitch said slowly shaking his head while preparing tea in the mess hall.  “They’re good people… with families.”

You’ve never cared much for others Mitchel.  What’s different? 

Through the porthole, Mitch fixed his stare on a binary system 4 thousand light-years away.  He tried to rid his mind from, of what seemed like, an onslaught of deprecating language coming from Darwin.  He silently witnessed a region of stars blink out one star at a time, until nothing was left but inhospitable darkness.   Nonsensical, he thought.

Moths? Within seconds the porthole was awash with peppered moths frantically crawling on the outside pane, as if trying to make their way into the ship.

It’s time Mitchel

Starsp

“Propofol,” Chantel said.  “He’ll be home before he knows it.” She took a vial from a white case, then filled a syringe with the agent and flicked at it 3 times.

“We are within code to administer the agent without his consent,” Haman said, looking at Dubov with sudden confidence and vehemency.  “He’s a threat to us and a threat to himself… Once we dock at the station and make the necessary repair, we can initiate the anesthetic.”

“Do you think he’ll ever come to perceive his psychosis and that we need not play nice anymore?” Haman asked.

“I don’t know…”

“Mitchel?…”

Home is where the heart is…

Affixed, he stared at his blurred and battered self-reflection as the rain pelted the paned glass window. Behind him, the slow hypnotic sound of the tick and the tock from the old grandfather clock—unwavering.

A precipitous act,  or perhaps a brief moment of clarity, he toppled the wooden chair that was affixed to his ass onto the cold ceramic floor—his head now appearing buoyant in a puddle of his own piss. He fixed his stare on the muddy footprints left by the 3 abductors and with tenacity, removed the remaining rope that bound his arms.

“Laurie!?” he called out, but the rain was tumultuous and he barely seemed to make a whimper. His arms, having been repeatedly slashed by the intruders with a straight razor, buckled at the elbows by his weight.  His lips once again tasting his own piss.  He tried to establish contact again.  “Lorrr?” he shouted.  His knees and elbows worked his way out of the precarious position, getting him vertical again. Mission accomplished.

He tumbled down the hallway onwards to the staircase. Alcohol-free, but still with a twist; a twisted fucking ankle. In rapid succession and outré, the metal-framed wedding pictures from yesteryear fell from the walls smashing to the floor as he passed. Unfazed and determined to connect, he pressed onwards to the oak stairs.

“Lorrr?”

Well folks, spring has finally sprung… a radio blared from the upstairs bedroom after some brief static, Are you ready for it? At the top of the hour, meet Sandy Wilson, botanist, accomplished mother of 3, and on the bestseller list with the title Meet your Greens—we’ll chat. I can use all the help I can get… 

And another thing, Mitchel… The radio sounded after some more static.

Oxygen level… depleting

Mitchel opened the bedroom door. A blood-soaked comforter; not so comforting. In crimson hue, a handprint smeared across the bathroom door. “We wish you’d turn back,” Dubov said while sitting at the end of the bed tossing the marble that had once fallen dying son’s hand, then rolled along the hospital room floor resting next to Dubov’s foot. “There’s nothing more we can do. We’ve done everything we could to stop you—from yourself.  But there’s something else going on in that head of yours, Mitch… The truth is that Olga and I…”

Oxygen level… depleting

“Chantel’s here to administer the agent!” Dubov said changing the conversation and his pitch.  Footsteps clacked on the staircase getting louder and faster.

“It’s true?” Mitchel asked. “Laurie did it? Killed herself.” He again turned to the crimson door. “I understand why I haven’t received a response to my last enquiry.”

“Slit her wrists in the bathtub,” Dubov said.  He lowered his head pointing to the bathroom door.  “Go ahead, sir.”

“Mitchel!” Chantal and Haman shouted in unison after having arrived. He turned the handle feverishly stepping into the bathroom.  Peppered moths frantically made their way in, pelting and whizzing by Mitch’s face reminiscent to looking out the porthole while traveling at warp speed through a cluster of stars in Andromeda.

Airlock… open

They watched through the porthole as Mitchel’s body slowly rotated in dead silence, his body appearing smaller and smaller as he drifted farther away into cold dark space.

Alone.