by M.D Schultz
Life after death was not kind to Alice. Ask the Raven's, they know best.
|Previous "The Ravens of Babel Tower"
Several Weeks had passed since that unfortunate accident with the mule, and things were never quite the same for Alice. In fact, people had started to notice her, and, for the first time in her life, she was offered a job, a place to fit in.
Her benefactor was Huett, a man getting on in years who was looking for a helper around his shop. An old store that peddled, well, just about anything. He had clothing, flowers, snacks, and even colorful tapestries hand-woven by his wife.
“This is our pride and joy.” He said, pulling Alice along to see a fabric, delicate and smooth with woven patterns of horses so lifelike you could touch the manes and see them wink.
“It’s beautiful, sir,” Alice said softly, touching the surface; it was smooth and delicate beneath her fingers.
“I figured a girl like you knew quality, boy, I can sure pick ‘em.” He walked off, muttering to himself with a smile.
He was a kind man but working with Alice was not easy. She was shy around people and spoke softly; Huett always had to tell her to speak up. She was not used to having so much attention, and attention is exactly what she got.
You see, she didn’t just stock shelves, she had to watch the storefront. That man was too trusting and often careless to let a young girl man the store alone, but she couldn’t say no, she couldn’t disappoint; after all, Alice had developed a burning desire to please people.
To this end, she worked tirelessly cleaning the store and working on her manners, always greeting customers with a smile. For the first time in her life, she cared about how she looked in the morning, fussing with her hair and painting her nails with colorful dyes. A woman had begun to blossom within her; call it vanity if you must, but she took pride in dressing herself, and, before long, Huett’s store had begun to attract more people, people who had grown accustomed to cheerful service and a lovely smile.
In only two months, she had crawled out of her shell and come to view the world and its inhabitants more cheerfully. Perhaps, that bump on her head changed her, or maybe it was the kindness of an older man. Either way, she owed Huett a debt she couldn’t pay, a debt for her happiness.
However, not everything works out like the fairytales in her dreams; no, a sliver of something dark latched to her spirit; A sliver that bargained for the fire of life never failing to uphold a deal, and the town of Annuavara was far from the place Alice once called home.
She still sees them, you know, those Ravens from Babel Tower. They are there in the morning as she brushes her hair in the afternoon as she greets patrons, and at night, watching as she is tucked into bed by a kindly old couple. They will never leave, never sleep, never stop until Alice is home.
It was in the mirrors, you see, the reflection drew them like moths to a flame. Alice could see how tightly they were bound; chained dogs could only snap from a distance; the leash held taught. They were there to remind her that life was not all sunshine and roses, an unpleasant memory of her previous experience as a gutter rat and how close she came to crossing the black bridge of Nautica.
If only they were but lame animals, if only they couldn’t reach across the veil, Alice could ignore them. You see, she was no longer startled when they appeared, but her complacence only served to anger, and rage made them bold.
It was two months after taking the job that she felt their twisted touch. Alice had woke as she always did, dressing before her bedroom mirror, but this time the Ravens did not watch from a distance. This time she saw the crane necked man running his fingers through her hair, and she felt every digit, like the point of a knife across her back.
“Alice, what’s wrong!” Huett pounded through her door to the sound of screams and a shattered mirror. He found Alice at the corner of the room, hugging her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth, muttering nonsense.
At that moment, Alice was a gutter rat, back on the streets being spat upon and kicked by those who only saw filth.
Change wasn’t so easy after all.
Time, however, moves regardless of life’s difficulties, and, before long, Alice was back staffing the store with a smile. Yet, there were challenges for Alice outside of the supernatural. She had a soft spot for those down on their luck.
Without telling the store owner, she snuck merchandise to the impoverished. In the beginning, it was only a snack here and there, but, eventually, the open palms grew. Alice was still a child, and as long as good outweighed evil, her actions were justified.
Unfortunately, her benevolence attracted a new type of crowd into Huett’s store, a group not looking to purchase, but to take. Before long, Huett’s prized tapestry was stolen under her nose, and Alice came clean to the owner, admitting her actions that led to the crime.
Even kind men have their limits, and Huett had found his, raising his hand to strike the girl as a father would his misbegotten child.
But, before his hand grazed her cheek, Huett’s eyes grew wide, and he cried out, clutching his chest before crumpling to the ground, the last gasp of a dying man as he reached out for help.
There, reflected upon the light that dimmed from his eyes, stood the crane necked man with a desiccated lump of flesh between its fingers.
Alice screamed, but it was too late to save Huett, and around him, you could hear the sounds of a raven’s cry.
Though nobody ever believed that Alice had killed the poor man, she was no longer welcome in the town of Annuavara. Many had begun to whisper of a dark curse, a darkness the dwelled within the child returned to life.
So, Alice fled the city and began life as a nomad, traveling from place to place, taking jobs wherever she could. Yet, no matter where she may run, the Ravens follow, and death isn’t far behind.
A bartender, a school teacher, a vagabond, and a businessman, Huett may have been the first, but he wasn’t the last victim. At the age of 21, now a woman fully grown, Alice was poised to take her own life, the final victim of her careless wanderings. With the knife poised before her chest, she thrust the blade forward only to stop just short, drawing a sliver of blood.
“Is that all I am worth?” Alice asked, her hands trembling. She dropped the knife then, sobbing into her hands as the rains came down once again. Eleven years had passed, and Alice was right back where she started. In her mind, she was right where she belonged, in the gutters of a nameless city.
Yet, it was in those gutters where she noticed a scrap of soggy paper that came to rest against her face, an advertisement for some private detective.
The Fifth Chapter, she had heard that name once before, on the lips of a drunken couple. They specialized in the supernatural; they fought demons; they saved lives.
Alice sighed without a tear left to shed. Gathering her things, she stepped away from another city in search of another.
“What’s one more trip on the road to hell?”
Next "The Appointment"