My apologies for being a day late! We return with yet another old story, The Red Raven; like The King out of Darkness, it was written for the Enigmatic Monster Project several years ago. I never finished, because I had other obligations. Nonetheless, here is the original story!
Sylvan Spider God
Like a wheel, spinning, spinning, spinning–a maddening rhythm that increases in speed–the god-creature spins and spins away, all eight of its hands a silver shimmer in the air.
Like a nightmare-creature, it sits in its golden chair. A chair made from gilded bones, which the spider god looks at fondly from time to time. The creature in question is itself a mystery: why does it spin, and who does it spin for? It is both a horror and a delight to behold; gold and silver, with black bands on all eight of it’s arms, hands, and fingers, which–in just the right light–are translucent, revealing an intricate network of veins, muscles, and sinew . . . All of which sparkle, due to the star stuff from which the god-creature was made.
Sitting in its chair, it sits upon its gilded throne in a clearing of exotic trees, blue, slate and red in colour. The trees tower over the clearing, poker-straight, but without leaves. The god looks up into the vast expanse of nothing overhead. It lives outside of creation, therefore there are no stars, no moon, and no planets to gaze upon.
Only the silver shimmer of eight hands, spinning, spinning, spinning–a maddening, blinding rhythm–provide any entertainment for the god.
“What good does my spinning do, if I can never see the end result?” it said in its deep voice.
There was no reply, of course. It was to be expected. The spider god lived on its rocky plateau alone, deep within the vast expanse of . . . Nothing.
It sighed, of course. It was what it always did. Endlessly it spun. Always it asked the same questions. And not once had it ever received an answer.
It returned its attention back to the golden chair, back to the gilded bones. Its prize. A remnant. Long ago, when there was a universe for the god to look at . . . Something, not nothing . . . Within time . . . The spider god sighed again. Its memory was long, as if someone had stretched it. All the way down, to the very beginning of its memory were the fuzzy remnants of that universe, that something. Sadly, its memory was severely frayed at that end–or beginning.
It could not recall.
“What good does my spinning do, if I can never see the end result?” it said again. “I am lonely. I itch!” the last sentence came out as a low, guttural growl.
Its face lifted up. From within the shadows of the trees, it caught a glimpse of a ghost. Something stirred within the spiders memory . . . Anger, pain . . . An ancient enemy.
“Have you come to gloat?” the god-creature asked, watching as the ghost flickered in and out from among the trees, watching as it flitted from tree to tree, back and forth, as if it were mocking the spiders spinning. “Damn you!” The shout reverberated within the clearing, hollow, metallic.
With a crack the ghost appeared before the spider. A ravens skull and neck, with a red cloak and cowl trailing behind it, like a tear in reality . . . The spider knew who it was. As the memories flooded back it wondered how it could have forgotten the Red Raven–the dream tyrant, the punisher, the savage terror.
Something struck the spider god then. Its captor . . . It had no crown . . . The Spider God laughed as the Red Raven collapsed in upon itself.
What a terrible, cosmic fate. Such an irony. To forget yourself, and to have all of your work undone? The Spider God knew the feeling well; after all, it had been its only company for countless eons . . .
The Spider God ceased spinning. The spinning had been the key, it realized, to its own imprisonment.
The question HE had been asking was a fruitless one; the answer had been there all along . . . How stupid. How clever.
The Thief, Mr. DeCorvi
The Red Raven . . . What was it? Where had it come from?
The man wondered as he hunkered down into the bush.
It was an idea–a symbol–an ancient being. In other words, a very good myth. Whatever any of it meant . . . He laughed to himself, a bit on edge.
The Red Raven, it was said, was the cause of dreams, the true king of the dream world. Day or night, it cast out its seeds, good or bad, to be had by the dreamer. Rich or poor, woman or man, the Red Raven cared not. The being was a chaotic agent, and therefore did not care what it did, without being good nor evil. According to many stories, the sovereign had reigned supreme, until its downfall, when it lost its crown . . .
. . . It glinted in the afternoon light; up until now it had been a miserable day. Joseph let out another laugh, less shakily this time, as he stashed the crown back in his bag.
The crown had until very recently belonged to an older, wealthier family . . . How they had acquired it he had no inkling. Why they had kept it he had no clue. It was a rather ugly looking heirloom, made of steel, heavy and plain. The crowns glory (and redeeming quality) lay in the curious gem at its centre. It had all the colours of the rainbow, including black and white. One could not tell whether it was real or fake. It was not glass, of that he was certain.
Off in the distance he could hear the baying of dogs, accompanied by shouts. “They’ve finally noticed!” he said to himself, before proceeding to make a series of false trails.
If the pay had not been so handsome, and if he had not received such a hefty advance, Joseph would not have risked his neck for an ugly steel crown. At the moment he was having trouble figuring out why any one would want it, let alone keep the thing. His thoughts occupied him as he doubled back and forth, bounded through thickets and over dales, until he finally found an overhanging river bank. Aquatic life disgusted him, but he grit his teeth as he slid into the water.
For the next hour or so he waited neck-deep in the cold water, his insides churning. The change in the weather had not lasted long; the sky was overcast once more, and it was beginning to drizzle. Something brushed past him in the water and he almost bit his tongue. Water–or more specifically, what was in water–made him uneasy.
Damn this! I’m going to get pneumonia if I keep this up! The hunting party had passed by twice already, but Joseph did not want to risk being caught. They haven’t been around for at least an hour! He countered. But just so, who’s to say that they aren’t waiting on the bank? He closed his eyes.
The rain picked up.
Faster and harder.
Until he could hear nothing else.
They’d be mad to wait for him in this. He pushed himself out of the water slowly, inch by inch, centimetre by centimetre . . . The water was starting to rise faster than him. Joseph flinched at a peal of thunder; he almost slipped under the water’s surface. How long had he been waiting?
Finally, fed up with waiting in the water, Joseph peeked his head over the bank. He wanted to hit himself.
There was no one there!
Swearing under his breath, Joseph scrambled up the bank; the grass was slippery, but he made it. It took him a while to steady himself. Every inch of his body was sore, numb.
If he stopped now, he would die.
If anyone had thought to ask him how he had gotten this far in life, he would have no answer. There wasn’t much of a life, so to speak. He had no idea how he had gotten this far, let alone how he he managed to pull off such a heist . . . The manor had been heavily guarded, belonging to a wealthy and very well-known family.
The heist had only just begun.
Something Else, But What?
Joseph DeCorvi . . .
Was how how the letter began. When Joseph had found it tucked neatly into his back pocket a month ago he had been surprised, to say the least. Upon reading it, it had left him in a cold sweat.
I have heard that you are the right man for this particular job, or rather, for a job of this calibre.
At the time he had been staying at a little inn near the shores of Waridge, an island located right on the border between Cannard and Oursar. Waridge profited from the two countries in trade, tourism, and as an official border crossing (of which only two ferrying companies legally benefited from). Another thing the island profited from was numbers. Its population was comparable to that of Tarano, comprising of many cultural groups.
The first and last thought that went through Joseph’s head was: How did someone find me? It was easy to get lost on the island. This meant two things: someone knew who he was, and someone was watching him.
I have heard that you are the right man for this particular job, or rather, for a job of this calibre.
There is an artifact that I wish to obtain for scholarly purposes. Are you familiar with ravens? I myself prefer the red ones; they pose such interesting questions. Where do they come from? Why are they red? And more importantly: what do they mean?
If you are interested, stay another night at this ‘inn’. You’ll find a set of instructions in the morning. Your clients will always give you difficult tasks, as you well know. Burn this and go on your way if my proposal has failed to interest you. Otherwise, enjoy your stay!
Every instinct that had ever been ingrained in him had shouted NO!
He held on to the letter for the entire day, wandering through countless streets and districts, one hand always in his coat pocket . . . More than one person had shied away from him. Joseph supposed that he would too, if he could see himself. Several times he had come close to burning the letter, but he always stopped himself at the last minute.
At the end of the day curiosity got the better of him, and he returned to the same inn.
He had always had a fondness for myths. The Red Raven was the most ambiguous and widespread myth that he could think of . . .
Where did it come from? Why was it red? And more importantly: what did it mean?
The very next morning he awoke to find a letter on the nightstand. His blood ran cold. The door had been bolted, and blocked for good measure; his vocation called for extra precautions like these . . .
When Joseph opened the letter his face paled. “I should have burned the damn thing!” he whispered.
What his new contractor wanted was for him to commit suicide! Yes, he felt that that sentiment summed it up just about. Basically he was to cross into Oursar, travel South for three to four weeks, and then find a way to the island of Reyk . . . What this stranger wanted was for him to rob the Iribou Clan* . . .
He found himself on the Oursar ferry to Waridge. It had been three weeks since he had fled Reyk with that forsaken crown. The plan was to cross the border into Cannard and then head to Mantou on the mainland. His journey was far from over though. . . Still, as the Eastern Port came into view he let out a little sigh. As soon as the ship landed he would make his way to the Cannard half of the island, then in the following morning he would take the other ferry.
It was simple in theory. There were three other border patrol stations he would need to pass through; it had taken him the better half of the day to get through the first one, and by the time he cleared the second it would be midnight. He groaned.
The ferry docked. For the next hour or so Joseph waited in line. By the time he was cleared it was a little bit earlier than he had anticipated.
It was a humid night out on the streets. Out in the distance thunder could be heard promising more rain; when the first drops hit the pavement the people cleared the streets, leaving them empty and lifeless. Joseph pulled the hood of his jacket down over his face some more, and wrapped his arms around his body for warmth. The sheer amount of rain he had seen over the weeks was a tell-tale sign of the approaching fall. He shivered.
The Cannard half of the island was fast approaching. All the time Joseph had been listening to the sounds of the rain. There was an unsettling tickle at the back of his neck; it had been there since the rain started, but he ignored it. There was a lot of splashing, but he had dismissed it. Rain made noise. Lots of noise. He felt a bit stupid for needing to reaffirm that fact within his mind. Of course, that noise could also provide cover for someone following him; it would not be the first time someone had tried to jump him in the rain. “Let them try,” he whispered. On he went, maintaining his pace. He didn’t bother to look behind him, but he did straighten out his back. For a second he blacked out–he saw a pathway before him, he was running, loud footfalls following him, someone gaining on him–and he blinked. What brought on that?
Joseph made it to the Western Port just in time. The woman in charge was just about to close the office.
She eyed him as she was about to shut the door. “You’re taking the ferry I assume?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“You’re lucky, the captain wasn’t going to take any more passengers.” She motioned for him to come in.
“Thank you,” he said.
The woman shrugged. “It’s slower this time of year. I don’t mind.” She looked over his passport, took his fare, and issued him a ticket.
Joseph looked out the window while he waited. He saw someone standing by the nearest lamppost. So, someone was following me! He wasn’t the least bit surprised by that. Whoever it was, they were tall–really tall, come to think of it. And thin.
There was something wrong, but he had no idea what it was. He only knew what they were after.
Joseph took his things and headed for the ferry.
*The Iribou Clan is one of the few remaining clans; these clans were essentially large warrior societies. They are housed on Reyk, an island on the Oursar section of the River Maria; they control the island.
Existence Without Existing
What did it mean to exist without ever existing at all? How did it feel?
Is that the illusion of self? A voice whispered.
For a moment Joseph thought about it; it was a miserable moment. Each time he came close to something, he felt numb inside, and it frightened him.
Because he did not understand. Anything. Because he did not know what was happening to him, or what had ever happened to him, or what would happen to him.
Or if there was anything at all.
“Who is the truth?” the stranger asked.
It was the too-thin stranger, still standing in the light of that lamp. The rain was falling hard and heavy, but it never seemed to touch them.
For a second he considered the question; he wasn’t sure where to start. “That question makes no sense!” he yelled. Nothing did.
“That’s never stopped you in the past,” they retorted. “I thought you were clever.”
His face contorted, as if in pain–or was that the confusion–who knew? “Who are you talking to?”
“Who knows.” From the light of the lamp Joseph began to pick out silver lines around the stranger, radiating from them like the spokes of a wheel. “Ask him!” The stranger pointed a finger at the empty space surrounding Joseph.
“Ask who?” Joseph turned around in a full 180 degree circle, but there was no one else. He lowered his eyes to the ground. He felt . . . An overwhelming shame . . . “What is happening to me?”
He looked up to find a ravens skull inches away from his face.
A week dragged by, followed by another. As the summer waned, fall came in like a roaring lion; the rains had persisted up till this point and showed no indication of taking a break. Up in the countryside the leaves were already the colour of fire and much of the land was showing the signs of decay.
Joseph slowly opened his eyes. To his eyes the landscape stood stark against an iron-grey backdrop. For the time being the rains had slowed to a mere drizzle. He sighed, stretched out his legs for a moment, then resumed his sitting position on the cart. From time to time he would shift his weight. The cart was loaded with bales of hay which poked him in the back. He didn’t know what was worse: being pursued, carrying a highly valued ‘artifact’, having strange dreams, or riding in a stinking hay wagon.
Over all, he was miserable. Joseph prayed that they would reach the next town soon.
Another week passed. The only change was his mode of transportation, being his own two feet. Up till this point Joseph had made good time–one could go as far to call it phenomenal. Despite the precautions he had expected things to go wrong from the start. They almost did, more than once. To his surprise he had made it this far.
How far could he keep this up?
It would only be a matter of time before they found him. Joseph shuddered at the thought of what they’d do to him if they did. They haven’t caught up with me yet! he reminded himself. The sordid weather and the lack of sleep were taking their toll on him.
“Have you figured it out yet?”
Joseph found himself at this familiar scene once more. Night after night he had the same dream. No. Night after night the dream picked up where it had left off; it was driving him insane. Some things changed . . . He was standing in a clearing surrounded by strange trees. It was difficult for him to process. There was light, but there were no stars, sun or moon to speak of. Only thick, impenetrable darkness. “Nothingness. Nowhere,” he mumbled to himself. “And the same riddles every night!”
“They’re not riddles.”
“Shut up!” Joseph spat. The too-thin stranger was insufferable.
“Ooooooh! Oooh!” Their voice became soft. “I see you’ve developed a personality over the past few days!” A round of snide laughter filled the clearing, echoing off the trees, filling Joseph’s head.
“AAGHH!” He clamped his hands over his ears. When the echoing subsided Joseph found that his eyes had been shut. They were watering. As he lowered his hands he half expected to find them covered in blood; they weren’t. Instant relief flooded through him. “What the hell was that for?” he demanded.
There was a pregnant pause. Then came their reply. “For developing a personality!”
Joseph made a rude gesture with his hands. No one was in sight, but he knew the too-thin stranger was watching him from afar.
“I’m going to wake up if you don’t stop this! Get out of my damn mind!”
A shadow streaked past him. Joseph grit his teeth; lately he had begun to question whether this was a dream, or if he had ever left Reyk at all. His whole body stiffened all of a sudden. Something about this place had changed.
He was not alone.
Behind him, Joseph felt more than saw that someone was there. They were . . . massive. Fear made him tense up like a coil–he was ready to spring at a moments notice. Whatever warmth he had felt melted away. Numb. There was nothing to feel, then–
“Now, do you understand?”
Who was this new presence? Could it be the too-thin stranger? No, Joseph thought, and then:yes. That voice was like the stranger, yet so unlike them too; he couldn’t place anything, gender, age. Only size. And they felt massive.
The question had yet to be answered. Did he understand? How did one exist without ever existing at all?
When a mask–everything about them–had melted away, leaving nothing to feel but the cold of whatever purpose they had been tasked with . . .
Joseph faced the thing. “You’ve done nothing but chase me. Why is that?”
Galling, Gruelling Eternity
Cold, stiff, skeletal . . .
“How long do you suppose he’s been dead?” the woman asked. She refrained from nudging the body with her boot.
“It’s hard to say just by looking,” the other man replied. “He’s been here for weeks, or months. We’ll have to get him back to the laboratory for further analysis.” He scratched his beard.
“It looks like he’s been bitten,” she motioned to the neck of the corpse. “Everything about this case screams that it’s been staged. Do you suppose that this is a ritualistic murder?”
“Yes,” the man replied without so much as a hint of hesitation. “I know this man.”
“He’s the thief, then?”
The professor–Alec A. Chamberlain–sighed. “Yes.” It was always the thief. He had seen DeCorvi dead so many times that he had become accustomed to it; the first few times he had dreaded the outcome–it was always the same–until he stopped thinking about it. Alec was not heartless. No, far from it. Pragmatic? Yes. So far his theory had been proven true.
The woman–his assistant Marie Patron–gasped. “Again?” She began to scribble down notes furiously. “What do you hope to find from the body then?” she asked Alec.
Alec let out a laugh that sounded more like a bark. “Nothing!”
“Well, don’t get too excited about it then,” Marie said rather dryly. “Have you tried to resuscitate the body?”
“No,” the professor turned away.
Marie watched him go. She knew he had not tried it, though. The thief was a curious case; he had died countless times, and yet somehow they always found him again, alive and well, with no memory of the past. Professor Chamberlain always hired him for the same thing, which DeCorvi always pulled off with astonishing ease. And yet they always found him dead at the end . . . It didn’t seem to matter if there were slight or significant changes to the plan.
DeCorvi always died.
“If only he would put the damn thing on!” Professor Chamberlain said with no small amount of frustration.
Marie silently agreed. There needed to be a drastic change to the plan. Then there would be results. She heaved a sigh. At times she dreaded her callousness. “He is not a man,” she reminded the professor. “Men can’t force him to do what he will not do.”
“Ah, yes. You are right. But still!” There was no arguing with it; Marie was right. The Professor thought about it for a moment. “What if you got him to do it somehow?”
“What? Add a touch of romance?” Marie laughed. “Professor, he does not look at men or women the way a real person would.” How many times had Marie watched DeCorvi? After all, it was her that planted the letter in his presence each time; she had become an expert at picking locks, opening windows . . . Even without any memory some part of the thief recalled the letter. “It’s clear he wants to be left alone, Professor.”
The Professor turned back to Marie and the corpse. Gesturing with his hands he said: “Now that is where I beg to differ. It appears that he’s divided between what he wants, and what he is. He, as the thief: Joseph DeCorvi, wishes to live a terrestrial life like you or I. But he, as the raven god–the Red Raven, desires war with the Golden Spider.”
“Okay. Suppose you’re right,” Marie began. She believed the same things as the Professor regarding DeCorvi, but not the part about him being a god. That was pure conjecture on the Professor’s part. And purely ridiculous. She was willing to accept that she was wrong, but the Professor had little to show for that part of his theory . . . “If DeCorvi is really the Red Raven, split over personal desire and cosmic purpose, what is he doing?” When it was clear she had him stumped, Marie continued: “ That man is not the god you’re looking for Professor. I’m sorry.”
He felt . . . An overwhelming shame. Joseph DeCorvi sat up in bed and winced. He felt at his neck; a moment earlier he had felt a great searing pain, like he was being strangled and bled to death at the same time. Hesitating for a second, he tried to remember the other day. “What is wrong with me?” He felt his forehead. It was cold to the touch.
Like he was dead.
I’m not dead! he reassured himself, pinching, poking, feeling every inch of his body. Just to be sure he was real. I do exist!
You exist? That’s a pity.
“Shut up!” he shouted, his voice raw, guttural. He clamped his hands to his ears. After a while Joseph found that his eyes had been shut. To his chagrin he had been crying. He lowered his hands, and to his horror found blood on them.
Bewildered, Joseph searched the room. He was alone–no . . . There, up in the corner. A large yellow spider sat on its web . . . “DAMN YOU!” Joseph growled, snarling. Like a half-mad animal he leaped for the thing, reaching for it with his bloodied hands. He grabbed it out of the air, and ate it.
“What is wrong with me!” he shouted. He vomited. He scrambled into a corner and hugged himself into a fetal position. He rocked back and forth with his eyes shut, whimpering.
Feeling an overwhelming shame at what he had become.
Stop it! he told himself, feeling stern. Joseph stood up, still shaking, but standing nonetheless. Good, now go make your bed. He continued on like that until he was presentable to the outside world, which made him feel bitter. No one cared about the inside, did they? Who wants to hear about you dying a little each day? Pathetic. Who do you think you are? You’re an adult now.
Joseph sighed. He felt tired, as if he had done this more than once. Passing a hand over his brow, he steeled himself for the day. “Since when did I hate life this much?” he asked himself.
There was no answer.
Good. He made sure to lock the door behind him. His apartment was not the best of places to be, but the neighbourhood outside was worse. When he first moved there he had been forced to learn that lesson. His memory was a fuzzy blur when he tried to remember what transpired, but the street people avoided him whenever he came around . . . So whatever had happened, he had won.
“Who are you?” someone asked. Joseph turned to find a woman behind him; she was average height, dark skinned, with striking grey eyes. She had her hair wrapped up neatly in a blue scarf; judging by the few untucked strands her hair was a dark red that was almost black.
“I-I’m Joseph,” he stuttered. No one talked to him on the streets of his own home town. Never. “Ugh . . .” There was a long pause. “Who are you?”
She smiled. “I’m Marie. I always see you around, I thought I’d say hi. It’s nice to finally meet you, Joseph.”
“Oh! Well, ah, it’s nice to meet you as well, Marie. Have a good day!” Joseph looked back once before rounding a street corner. The woman who had called herself Marie . . . She was writing something in a book.