One Black Crow – Short Story

So a little while back an idea began to form in my mind for another short story. I had a feeling it was going to be a touch bleaker than most of my previous writings. It somehow managed to surpass my expectations and become something even darker than I suspected. So what better way to acknowledge that than by releasing it on Halloween! Enjoy!

As ever, please do let me know what you think!

***

The wind gusted, whispering its raspy voice through the naked branches of the old oak tree. The crow ruffled its feathers against the biting gale. A chill rain tapped out an unsteady rhythm on the windowpane, barely lit by the sputtering flame of oil lamps. The solitary crow let out a chilling caw in the dead of night. It sat sentinel, looking over the darkened house. Only the faintest, pale yellow glow flickered from the rain-slicked upstairs window. The dim room was frigid, a bitter draft finding its way in through the dilapidated window frame of the old house. Sheets of discarded paper, torn to pieces or scrunched into balls littered the warped floorboards. The detritus of a troubled mind.

The house had fallen to neglect this past year. Without the steadying influence of his wife, he had descended into the worlds created by his imagination. The bleak room had become his refuge, a sanctuary from the world outside. Self-care was all but non-existent. Out of pity, the elderly housekeeper visited once a day though she no longer received payment. She knew he wouldn’t feed himself otherwise, and out of a misguided sense of duty, she couldn’t in all good faith let that be. She left a tray of food, good, home-cooked sustenance, outside the door. The only sound from beyond the threshold, the fevered clacking of a typewriter under sustained attack. By morning, the tray would be back where it had been left, a mess of half-finished morsels of food.

At a battered, scarred old desk, once a magnificent testament to a skilled carpenter, a haggard-looking figure sat hunched over an ageing typewriter. Less-than-pristine sheets of paper lay scattered around the desk, notes scrawled all over in smudged ink, crossings out abound. The pen lay discarded, precariously close to the edge. The slightest contact would send it crashing to the floor. An upended inkwell dripped its midnight-black contents on the floor. The tortured soul sat in clothes stained and tarnished with who knew what, muttering to himself. Incoherent, almost mumbling in tongues.

The tormented writer had not seen the world beyond his room in a year. The room where he had held his wife as she slipped beyond this world became his prison. A prison of grief. Something consumed him. Writing was all he could do. And write he did. Day and night. Time became an alien concept with no meaning. If you asked him in a rare moment of lucidity, he could not answer when he had last slept soundly. Every moment became fitful, tormented within his own mind.

And that torment bled out into his work. Increasingly distressing visions and creations. Bleak worlds filled with nothing more than strife, tragedy and horror. Creatures that even the most tortured soul would cower from. Eldritch gods, horrific apparitions, beings that stalked the shadows and preyed upon the fears of mankind in the darkest corners of the mind. The anguish, the desolation, the grief spilt from him like blood from a wound. A torrent of emotion in prose filled page after page.

Days flew past, the pages of the calendar flicking by in a flash. Seasons came and went. The hope of spring as colour returns to the world. The warmth of summer and its expansive cobalt skies. The crunch of grass after the first autumn frost and the riot of orange in the trees. The cold, bleakness of winter, skeletal trees reaching up to grey skies, beseeching the clouds to cover the land in snow. And yet still, he remained. Day after day he sat before his typewriter, hammering the keys. The clacking of the strike bars, the chime and ratcheting of the carriage return filled the dank room. Over many months this process continued. His clothes became dirtier, his appearance more dishevelled. His face became ever gaunter. Blue eyes, once vibrant and icy, now looked grey and sunken into deep, shadowed sockets. Cheekbones protruded. Ribs, once hidden by the comfort of a happy, loving life, now showed like a skeletal xylophone beneath his loose-fitting, tatty shirt. His writing, once his passion, now became his nightmare. His obsession. His addiction. It consumed his every waking moment, and the few he spent asleep. It consumed his physical being, too.

As winter gripped the world in its icy grasp, the man had descended into madness. Delirious and incapable of anything more than writing. Sleep was an old friend, long since departed, and food no longer passed his lips. In the bitter cold of the old, decaying house he wrote onwards, the blackened, frostbitten fingers clumsily striking the keys of his worn typewriter. His progress slowed as his mind faltered, the words appearing on the page less frequently. Deep inside his tortured mind, he knew he was close to the end. The end of his magnum opus. The end of his time on Earth.

Tired. So painfully weary. Each blink lasted longer as his mind and body slowly shut down. Just to rest his eyes for a moment. But he mustn’t. To even entertain it would spell disaster, and assure his failure in finishing his work. For this piece would be his legacy in the world, that which he will be immortalised for. As he slowly forged onwards, shadows deepened, taking on substance around him. They coalesced as the frigid room filled with sound. The susurration of a thousand or more eldritch voices spoke in the words of the ancients. The Lost Languages filled the room, swirling and twisting and roiling like a gale tossing paper, discarded clothing and detritus about the space.

A fiery red glow, dim to begin with, glowed about the haggard writer, as he pushed on to the end. Growing brighter with every keystroke, dark shadows coalesced in the ominous light. Wispy and indistinct to begin with, they grew more solid, more whole. Their indecipherable words rose to a dread screeching that seemed to echo out across the land. With a final flurry of frenzied typing, the writer slumped back in his chair. The howling shrieks stopped as the myriad shadows swirled like a murmuration of starlings, smashing through the dirty glass window and out into the stormy night. All except one. It stumbled in a stuttering gait. Looming over the writer, dragging ragged final breaths into his failing lungs, it grabbed him by the throat with gnarled fingers. It lifted him up, glowing yellow eyes staring deep within the soul of the broken man. A deep voice echoed in his mind, though no words were spoken.

YOU GAVE US LIFE. WE FED UPON YOUR GRIEF AND FEAR, AS WE SHALL ON THAT OF ALL MANKIND. NOW, WE SHALL GIVE YOU YOUR LEGACY.

The creature dropped the writer to the floor, like nothing more than a discarded piece of paper. Unfurling leather wings, it took flight into the glowing red sky through the broken window. Screams rose from the town below as it swooped off to feast for eternity. The writer gazed with dying eyes out at the destruction he had created, then breathed no more.

The crow, sat sentinel in its tree, ruffled its feathers against the growing storm. With a solitary, mournful caw, it took flight into the raging sky.

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