The white raven flew down a little street that ran along the far side of the shopping center and landed on a low sign that said: Midnight Gardens Mobile Home Community. There wasn’t any pavement. Just a dirt driveway with gravel and puddles. His name was written in marker on a white strip on the door of unit number five. It wasn’t Mr. A. Tranjay. It was spelled E-T-R-A-N-G-E-R. I felt stupid. Like a dumb kid who couldn’t even spell right. Like there was no way I could ever stop my secret from hurting anyone else and I should just give up and go home and go to the doctor and not try to be the good kind of bad anymore but just the regular kind like all the other kids.
I sniffed. It was cold and my nose was running. I reached in my pocket for tissues. Dad was a good packer. I wished he could have come with me. Someone had spray-painted red symbols on the ground all around. They were just like the ones on my window. The raven stood on a yellow plastic mailbox full of colorful junk mail. She called. She was a big bird. It was loud.
I was about to turn around and go home when the door opened.
And there he stood. He was worse than before. A lot worse. He was dressed in sweatpants. He had a cane. He couldn’t hold it still. He could barely stand.
I looked up at him. “It has a little boy named Trevor in kindergarten who likes ice cream and doesn’t say his S’s right.”
He looked at me. He looked at the raven on the mailbox.
She called again, softer.
“I thought you weren’t getting involved,” he said with his head lowered. He wasn’t talking to me.
But the raven just flapped her wings and flew away.
Mr. Étranger watched her fly into the night. He turned to me.
“Do you know her?” I sniffed. My cheeks were red from running in the cold. I could hear a semi pass on the big freeway down by McDonald’s.
“We were lovers. For a while. You’d better come in. There won’t be much time.”
“What’s a lover?” I asked.
I walked in and he shut the door. There was flat carpet, the kind that people get when they’re afraid kids will spill stuff on it, and fake wood on the walls. There wasn’t any TV or anything. Just a single bed with a table next to it. And one lamp. There were boxes all around, just like the one with his books in it. Most of them were empty. Everything smelled like old cheese.
“The raven is her voice.” He shuffled past me toward the bed, which rested at an angle in the living room. “A herald or messenger.” He tossed the cane onto it and laid down.
“Is that why it’s white?”
“Once all ravens were white.”
“Oh, yes,” he nodded. “And they sang beautiful birdsong. Like a thrush. Or a nightingale.”
“What happened?” I asked as he draped his arm over his eyes, like maybe the light was bothering him.
“Mankind angered the gods,” he sighed weakly, “who took away man’s fire in punishment. The world grew cold. Winter came, and men starved. Feeling pity, the earth mother asked raven, the trickster and thief, to fly to the abode of the gods and steal back fire for man.”
“Oh, yes. Raven was a trickster. And a thief. She knew all the secret places. And on the long journey back to earth, carrying burning coal in her beak and breathing its smoke, raven’s white plumes turned dark with soot, and her once beautiful voice grew hoarse. So it is the ravens of earth are black as soon and have a crooked cry.”
He took a long breath and let it out, as if he wanted to sleep. His breathing was heavy. I watched it. I saw the little totem pole on the table. The two pieces at the top were still blank. I looked at the kitchen, which was open to the living area. It didn’t seem like he had any food.
“How come you won’t eat?”
“I did something. Long ago. And I am trying very hard to make amends.”
“Mends?” He closed his eyes and I took a better look at him. He was so skinny I could see the skin of his neck throb with each heartbeat. “Is it working?”
He chuckled. “Like with all great sacrifices, I won’t ever know.”
I think that meant he had to die for it to work.
“Maybe I could help instead.”
He smiled at me. “You’re a good boy. And I have appreciated your company. More than you know. But you have enough to deal with, I think.” He raised himself up in the bed with a groan. “It’s an apparition. Your secret. A fear-eater. People think it haunts closets and the spaces under our beds, but what it truly haunts is our minds. We simply project our fears into those other places. And it is that which sustains it.”
He took a deep breath, held it, and let it out slow. His hands were shaking.
“Like a bogeyman?”
“Yes. That’s it exactly.” He was wheezing. “It is a bogeyman.”
excerpt from the conclusion of my epic occult mystery, FEAST OF SHADOWS. Part One available now!