I walked into the dingy bar where the Rockabilly band, Pickle Juice, was playing. They jumped and jived and jammed on their steel guitar. I held on to hope that this would finally be the right place at the right time. Maybe I could finally be free of this curse.
Ever since the Night of the Raven had descended upon the small town where I grew up, I had been cursed. The townsfolk had held a lottery for who would receive the Raven’s mark and I was the unlucky recipient. A raven tattoo circled my throat. The beak of the raven was almost lost in my hair. At night I sometimes could hear it whispering to the recesses of my mind. The wings of the raven wrapped around my neck and crossed each other in the front. Sometimes when I caught a glimpse of it in the mirror I would struggle to breathe. I’d remember the searing pain as the Raven was sacrificed and I received my mark. Everything changed after that night. I lost the ability to speak. The Night of the Raven broke my life. My parents divorced soon after. My mom moved me across the country and bought me an endless assortment of scarves to wear.
Now I was in this shitty bar. The drinks were all fancy and weird. Made with things like witch hazel and rosewater. It was warm in the bar and I hated the scarf I had wrapped around my Raven mark. It made a stifling evening so much worse. I looked through the crowd. In the back by the band I saw another girl wearing a thick scarf even though her tee shirt clung to her with sweat. Maybe she was the one. I had read every legend ever written about the Night of the Raven and its aftermath. It happened only on leap years during the first full moon in February. There were very few of us Raven marked walking around. In ancient times I would’ve been shuttled off to an island with anyone else unfortunate enough to receive a mark. Now we mostly hid in plain sight. Tattoos were far more common these days than ever before. I walked towards the band. The girl was dressed in a poodle skirt and tee shirt. Her scarf wasn’t a dainty thing. Rather it was almost a full cowl. I caught her attention. She looked at my thick scarf and her eyes went wide. I lowered the front of my scarf to show her my mark. She got very excited and showed me that she too was Raven marked. The only thing left to discover was if our marks were compatible. If they were, they would be released back to the spirit world. The myths said that the ravens came to our world to experience everything that reality had to offer. Usually they stayed with their bearers until death. Then they would carry the soul of their bearer to heaven. There was a loophole. If you could find another marked bearer who’s raven matched your own, it could release you from the curse. I figured it was worth a shot. I had loved to sing as a child. I’d mourned for my music from the moment the Raven stole my voice. The girl was bouncing excitedly and dragging me towards the back of the bar. A side door took us out into an alley. I used my phone to write out my plan. She nodded in agreement. She unwrapped her cowl from her neck. Her raven was placed exactly as mine was, the wings crossing in front of her throat. I pulled my scarf over my head and the tiny whispers of the raven became a roar. I covered my ears and so did the girl. A blinding light lit the alley up. Every piece of garbage that littered the alley was highlighted in dazzling brightness. I had to shut my eyes against it. There was a coldness in the July air and the back of my eyelids glowed red. Then it was gone. I took a deep breath. The alley smelled worse than I expected. I started to cough and kept coughing as black smoke poured out of my throat. It formed into the shape of a raven and then it winged towards the sky. I cleared my throat. “Wow.” Tears formed in my eyes. I hadn’t spoken in almost twenty years. The girl looked at me. “Jane.” She said while pointing to herself. Her voice was as scratchy sounding as mine. I smiled at her. “Want to go grab one of those weird ass cocktails inside?”
She laughed. “Yes. Yes I would.” I hummed along with the band’s music as we made our way to the bar.
The prompts for today’s story:
night of the raven
witch hazel & rosewater
hold of hope
Copyright 2020 Klaudia Grady