December. There are those who despise the month with its unrelenting cold, the too-short days and overlong nights. I do not mind the cold so much, unless it is the kind of cold that penetrates layers of warm clothing… the kind that wraps your head in a tightening vice. But when the sun shines in a cloudless sky, when newly fallen snow crunches pleasingly underfoot, how easy it is to revel in the wonderment of the season.
Yet, I cannot recall the last time I felt such wonderment. When did the weather close in, painting the world a cheerless grey? Was it after Kitty rejected my advances? After my one, dear friend abandoned me for warmer climes?
It is not healthy for a young man to spend days and nights closeted in his room, with no company save his sorry mind. I know this, but I cannot face the bleak weather with the sun so rare a visitor, it becomes almost impossible to tell night from day.
What is happening? I have stoked the fire, lit the lamps and still the darkness closes in, like the seclusion that closes around me. “No! Enough. I can bear this no more. Open! Open…” I fling open the shutters and wail my loneliness into the dreary midnight.
My cry turns to horror. I throw up my arms, convinced a thing of evil is before me. With many a flutter, it lands on the window ledge. It is a crow–no, a raven. I stand, amazement widening my stare. With barely a glance in my direction, this stately bird hops in and glides to perch on the back of my chair. Only then does it turn its head to regard me, flickering flames from the fireplace lighting its tar-black eyes.
Gripped by a chill not caused by the cold, I wave my arms at it. “Go. Leave.”
It opens its beak… and forms a word. “Never.”
Falling back against the wall, I struggle to breathe, to speak. “What evil is this?”
The bird is silent, pinning me with its unblinking stare. Then slowly, dream-like, it stretches out its wings and raises its head. As water glides off oil, its feathers flow, trailing down the length of the chair as the bird seems to fall to the floor.
I swear my eyes are ready to start from their sockets. The bird is no more. In its place stands a woman with feathers puddled about her bare feet. Boldly, she returns my stare, making no move to cover her pale body.
After an age, I manage to speak. “Are you bird or… devil?”
“Bird.” Her voice is not the croak of the raven, neither is it as mellifluous as a woman’s.
I turn to the window, breathing deep of the cold air, perversely relishing the way it lances through to my lungs. “I am losing my mind. All these days spent shut in my room–”
“You saved my life once.”
Her voice, almost lacking emotion, silences me.
“My mate was shot. My wing injured. Others ignored me. You took me, mended my wing, made me well. Set me free.”
In an instant, I remember. My friends had laughed at my foolishness, but I could not leave so beautiful a creature to such a sad end. Slowly, I face her again. “That was you?”
As she nods, her hair, so black as to be almost purple, falls forward to obscure an eye. “I have watched you. You are kind, gentle… like my mate. I would spend my days with you. I have been given leave. But only if you are happy for me to do so.”
I cannot believe my ears. This exquisite woman… bird–no, woman, standing before me, telling me she wishes to spend her life with me. Me! Weak, bookish, uninteresting… Kitty’s words, her reason for rejecting me, had been akin to physical blows. I laugh, but there is no humour in it. “There is not much call these days for kind, gentle men.”
“Those qualities are important to me, to my kind. I care not for the views of others.”
Still struggling to believe, I approach her, expecting her, at any moment, to disappear. But she remains. Hesitantly, I raise my fingers to trace the scar on her upper arm, not surprised to find her skin cold.
“Others have flown before,” I whisper, “taking my hopes with them. You also will leave.”
Her eyes, fathomless black pools into which I would readily fall, gaze directly into mine. “Never.”
I place my now-steady hands on her arms.
Her eyelids flutter, she trembles.
“You are cold.”
“Not where your hands are.”
I remove my robe and place it around her.
“I will stay with you until the end of my days,” she says. “I ask only this – never raise your hand against me, never strike me. My kind do not tolerate cruelty. If you do, I will have to leave you.”
Warmth blossoms in my heart. Caressing her face, I whisper, “Never.”
This was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’, possibly my favourite poem by Poe.