Monday, 5 December 2016

Flash fiction - As the Raven King lay dying

A couple of weeks ago my virtual friend and occasional musical collaborator Mark Bennett pointed me towards the music of a chap going under the name of Tyrella.
Whilst listening to his Wrack and Ruin album (that you can buy from the link above) I read the lyrics to As The Raven King Lay Dying and was blown away. So I wrote the little story below because, well, just because.

 As The Raven King Lay Dying

I found him on the corner of Park Avenue and East 20th, slumped on the pavement outside an all-night pharmacy. The day's papers were still sitting in their bundle on the kerb and he'd snagged one but wasn't reading it; just staring across the street as the sky lightened with the promise of another warm day.
"Fisher," he grunted, "come to gloat?"
"Not I." I took the paper and stuck it underneath me as I sat next to him. "I heard your call."
He twisted slightly to look at me, "still as equals then?"
His laugh became a long, scraping cough, finished with a heavy spit onto the pavement. "I'm done here. Through. You'll be on your own soon."
"We've been before," I pointed out. "Berlin wasn't it?"
"It's different this time; look at me!"
He looked like shit. His hair had lost most of its famous colour and his massive frame was mostly skin and bone beneath his rags and coats. Maybe he was just a couple of hours from the morgue.
"And my soldiers come, see…"
Another man of rags was approaching, silhouetted in the pre-dawn it took me a  surprisingly long time to recognise him. Tall, gaunt, long grey hair and beard twitching in the soft breeze, he drew himself to his full height and nodded to me before dropping to one knee and giving the full weight of his gaze to the man next to me. Scarred fists as big as melons clenched as he dropped his eyes and waited for Raven to speak.
"So you named me," said the kneeling man.
"My time's coming."
"It need not be this way."
"But it should be."
We waited like that, we three, for another hour and the high clouds picked up the light of dawn.
Gilgamesh turned back the way he'd come, "Another comes."
This time the silhouette was unmistakable, so broad across the shoulders he was almost square. But he wasn't short with it, oh no; I was just one of many who, in earlier years, had underestimated his reach and regretted it. Dark hair, dark eyes and a dark countenance, with heavy stubble. He looked as if he was doing slightly better than the others, but his skin was pale and his hands were stained with wine or something more.
I got little more than a glare from him before he too dropped to one knee.
"Czernobog," said the King.
"That was never my name." The Slavic accent was still strong, even after all these years.
"But it's what we call you nevertheless."
And then we waited some more. Someone came out of the pharmacy to pick up the papers, thought about saying something but had second thoughts and went back in. The day's early traffic built and pedestrians gave us a wide berth as we talked about old fights and young women. A patrol car slowed but didn't stop. We must have looked a strange bunch; Gilgamesh and the King in old coats and blankets, Czernobog in his worn out biker leathers, me in my funeral suit.
After a while he tried to look down the street but gave up, "Jaganath?" He asked.
"Coming," I said, "but won't be here in time."
"Just us then. And the Reaper. I see you there!" He shouted.
Maybe there was a shadow under the traffic lights, but the sun was shining off the office blocks and it was hard to see clearly.
Shouting cost him heavily and when the coughing subsided he barely had breath left, just the faintest rise and fall in his chest.
"Call your people," said Gilgamesh, "it is time."
"No, not this time my boys, I release them, I set them free. I set them all free."
So we waited a while longer until he was gone, then stood in silence as a slow procession of the city's unregistered passed by, each leaving a feather on his body.
Eventually Gilgamesh sketched a mocking bow and shuffled off, his height masked by a hunch that was stronger than when he came. Czernobog walked blindly across the junction to a 24 hour café; ignoring the screeching brakes and horns he headed inside and I suspected I wouldn't see him again.
Maybe it just seemed like every bird in Manhattan was silent as I walked home. And maybe it was just a story that a storekeeper had tried to move a tramp out of a doorway but he collapsed into a pile of feathers and blew away down the street, picked up by swirling eddies and lifted to catch the sunlight like a halo.