To all the ravens I let go and to all the blackbirds I kept ...
00. The Raven
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
The Raven, E.A.P.
Sitting at the edge of his bed with his blue tartan pyjamas sodden with sweat, Ocean was making a great effort to calm himself down. Having just woken up from yet another nightmare, his head was hazy and he could feel his skin boiling.
"Hewwo," he said in a piping childish voice to the old brown teddy bear he had on his lap and vigorously moved its little arms with his shaking fingers. "My name ish Shmol Bear but I ish big and brave! I will protect yew!"
He took a deep breath in.
His stomach pain was gradually getting worse, his whole body was quivering. He let the toy on the bed and, dehydrated as he was, convinced himself to stand up and get a glass of cold water. Once on his feet, his wobbly knees gave out and he fell on the floor. He tried to stand up but as his entrails twisted and turned, he threw up.
A thick, ink-like, black liquid came out of his lips and began to slowly spread on the floor. He wiped his mouth with the cuff of his pyjamas, unknowingly smearing his cheeks with the dark sludge. He backed off and sat at the foot of his bed once more. He watched as the liquid expanded more and swallowed everything around him. It crept along the walls, dribbling from the ceiling, slipping through the cracks of his wardrobe.
Ocean’s chest was fluttering, his breath was fogging the cold air surrounding him. The loud tremble of his heart was echoing in his ears like war drums. Unconsciously, he reached for the teddy bear and squeezed it tight in his shaky hands. He then slid backwards until his body hit the head of the bed. All curled up, he rocked back and forth, whimpering like a child.
“One for sorrow, two for mirth-”
Look at you, still worthless...
“Three for a funeral, four for birth-”
Always making a fool of yourself...
“Five for heaven, six for hell-”
You'll never be a proper man!
“Seven for the devil, his own self-”
Look at me when I’m talking, you idiot!
Alarmed, Ocean jerked his head up and around, frantically trying to identify the source of those foul comments. It didn’t take him long to realise that the teddy bear was moving in his arms. He brought it forward. The stitches on the brown fluffy fur of its nozzle were stretching as it kept throwing hurtful words in an oddly familiar - yet nearly forgotten - voice, along with white stuffing on his legs and bedding.
With fear tingling every inch of his body, Ocean threw the toy away. It plopped as it touched the surface of the toxic liquid before disappearing into the liquid void. The very spot it disappeared in began bubbling, small black blobs ascending in an accelerating pace. Almost simultaneously, the furniture in the room began levitating as well, including the bed Ocean was on. Everything was detached from the floor and floated as if invisible strings were pulling them.
For a moment, they seemed idle, serene, turning Ocean listless. He couldn’t quite tell if they were still flying upwards while the room was expanding or falling while the room was shrinking. He couldn't tell whether this was a dream or yet another game his wicked brain was playing before his tired eyes. He couldn’t tell if it was morning or night, winter or spring. It felt as if his whole world had frozen in time, yet the clock on his nightstand kept ticking.
Then everything fell down in the blink of an eye.
The whole flat began shaking. The windows and doors kept opening and closing by themselves, loudly banging with force. The furniture was rattling. The ceiling light unscrewed itself and crashed on the floor with a loud shattering noise. Ocean's eyes couldn't stop twitching, scouring for anything logical he could get a hold of. Nothing made sense, so he closed them tight. He cupped his ears and grabbed his sticky hair with his fingertips. He screamed.
"MAKE IT STOP! MAKEITSTOP MAKEITSTOPMAKEITSTOP!"
The room apparently decided to obey his wish as the stillness lingered. One, ten, perhaps fifty minutes had passed before Ocean assured himself that it was safe for him to come around.
He pushed his eyelids open.
Everything was back to its proper place as if nothing had ever happened. His bed and nightstand in one corner, the window and the adjacent small bookcase in another. The lightbulb was back inside the ceiling lamp, a dull moonlight was faintly illuminating the wooden floor. Everything was perfect and quiet. Dead quiet.
All but that click of a light switch.
A raven-haired boy appeared standing by the bathroom door opposite Ocean, his ink-stained hand on the switch. His black shirt and his matching black jeans were torn in several places, his pale face was filled with old scars. He was staring back at Ocean with the small teddy bear in his other hand.
"You dropped this," he said, his voice echoing along the naked walls.
Ocean let out a laboured breath he thought he’d be holding forever. The boy puffed up his bloodless cheeks with the poutiest look and walked towards the window. He placed the toy upon the bookcase and gazed outside. With his curious emerald eyes, he watched as the moonlit waters were gently moving along the canal. There were no stars showing up as the city lights were still very bright, but the night was quiet and long past everyone's bedtime. The streets were empty and lonely.
He then looked back at Ocean. The man's twin moons were partly in the shadow but the tears and sweat surrounding them were beyond obvious, making his pretty face shimmer in the moonlight like a halo.
"You will always be my little deer, no matter what, Oisín, tá mo chroí istigh ionat," said the Raven.
Ocean’s eyes gloomed but he said nothing in return. Instead, he raked his long fingers through his flaxen locks and looked away. The Raven walked the distance between them and caressed Ocean’s cheek with his frozen, blackened hand, daubing the dark liquid on it even more. He dragged the smear at the edges of Ocean’s mouth and drew a wicked smile.
“That’s better,” he whispered and wrapped his skinny arms around Ocean's bony shoulders, hiding his face in the man's neck.
Ocean returned the gesture and touched the Raven's hair, slightly tugging them as a sob escaped his parched lips. Tears streamed from his eyes. He tightened his other hold of the boy's ragged shirt and let out an agonised cry. His heart weighed tons.
"I miss you," Ocean let out in a hoarse whisper.
"It's too painful."
"I know," the Raven repeated and cooed in Ocean's ear, "I’m always with you. I'll always protect you. No matter where. No matter when. I’ve promised."
To the sound of these words, Ocean broke into loud wails. He couldn't control himself. And he cried. And he choked from his tears. And then cried some more. Until the salt bound his eyelashes together and his mouth got completely dry.
He let go of the Raven and faced him. "Let me join you."
"I can't continue on my own anymore. Please. Let me do it. It’ll be quick. No one will care anyway.”
“That's enough!" Ocean yelled and headed for the bathroom, shoving the Raven out of his way, and banged the door behind him. He was searching in the drawers when the Raven rushed in and locked Ocean's arms with his hands. A metallic, sharp-looking razorblade escaped through Ocean's fingers and landed in the sink. The Raven watched it as it shined under the bathroom light.
"I can't let you do this. It’s not your time yet."
"Why not, huh?” Ocean complained through his teeth. “You expect me to keep feeling like this? To pretend as if everything’s just peachy?"
"No, I don’t. Everything was taken away from me. I didn’t choose this. But you have the choice. You mustn't. Not yet. Not like this. If you do, I might never be able to see you again. Have you ever thought of that? There's no point."
"That is the point!" Ocean knelt on the floor sobbing, escaping the other’s hold. "Every day is torture, a living hell. Every single day I have to wake up and go through the same pain. The same regrets. The same disgusting life. Over and over again. You don't. Why should I even keep doing this?"
"Because you promised."
“My promise means nothing without you.”
“I only wanted you to finally be happy.”
Ocean stared at the Raven’s gems and broke into tears once more. With the little remaining strength that his legs had, he lurched to his feet and tottered his way to the living room leaning against the walls. As his fingers were running on the cold surface, he could feel the skin on his neck crawling. The Raven’s icy touch had forced the sparse hair on his arms to stand up.
He grabbed his pack of cigarettes from the kitchen counter and struggled with his aching arms to get one and press it on his rosy lips. He lit it with a lighter and took a deep breath in. The rotten smoke travelled inside his blackened lungs, slowly sedating him. He slid on the floor and rested his head against the counter.
“One for sorrow, two for mirth,” he started counting again under his breath as the Raven’s eyes watched him closely. “Three for a funeral, four for birth.”
The shadows were slowly fading away, surrendering to the first morning light rays. His eyelids felt heavy.
“Five for heaven, six for hell.”
The cigarette in his hand kept burning, the ashes were falling on the carpet. The Raven's wide grin remained in the air as he was tapping his fingers on the counter to the rhythm of the nursery rhyme.
“Seven for the devil, his own self.”
The tapping slowly faded and Ocean continued from the top.
“One for sorrow, two for-”