Photo by Andrew Koerner

Poe 2: Nevermore

I have a new partner now. They’ve replaced Caper. The man arrived at my door, carrying a suitcase in one hand and a covered cage in the other. He was a gaunt man, more tall than short. He was wearing a suit. At the very least, his outfit would complement mine.

“Hello,” he said. His voice was quiet and gentle with a high timbre. It should have been soothing, but there was a waver in it that made it a bit irritating to listen to.  “It’s Poe, is it not? My name is Wormwood. I’ll be your new partner.” He smiled. It was a nice smile, but like with his voice, there was something in it that I couldn’t quite place.

Tempest had sent me an email telling me that I would be rooming with the man. I would have much preferred someone else. The new recruit they stuck with the Messenger, for example. Even the Messenger himself. This isn’t surprising, though. Tempest doesn’t trust me. She’d naturally want to keep me on a tight leash. I let my new partner into the room, but said nothing.

“I…brought a gift,” Wormwood said. “I hope you don’t mind.” He pulled the cloth off the cage. Inside was a black bird.

“A raven,” I said.

“Yes. A raven. I’m sorry, maybe it’s a bit…predictable? But I thought you’d like it.”

As I stared at the bird, I was conflicted. I know what it’s like to be a caged bird. I felt like I could understand it. That’s why I wanted to keep it. That’s why I wanted to set it free.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. “Thank you.”

He nodded. “I thought you’d like it. I did some research on you before I came. I hope you don’t mind. After all, it is our job to know things about people. I want to be able to set a good example after what happened with your last partner.”

Ah. That was it. That’s what had made me so uncomfortable before. I knew now that he was goading me, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond. “Caper was a good man.”

“Caper, Poe, was a traitor and a fool. He defied the wishes of Father. He was constantly rebellious and treated everything we work for like it was some big joke. I’m hoping he hasn’t been too bad of an influence on you. You have a very…interesting history, Poe. You’re an anomaly. You shouldn’t be here. And yet, here you are. Now, I can chalk that up to your former partner’s meddling rather than Father’s will. But I can’t excuse it. I’m sorry. I wish it weren’t this way, but I’m going to have to keep a close eye on you.”

I stared at the raven again. I made my decision, then. I would be selfish. I would keep the bird rather than letting it go. If I was trapped, it would stay trapped as well. I would be a hypocrite for keeping it in that situation, but at least the two of us would be able to provide each other with some amount of comfort.

Wormwood saw me looking at the bird. He opened the door of the cage and pulled some birdseed from his jacket pocket, offering it to the animal. It hopped back, but then cautiously started easing forward. “Our relationship need not be a bad one,” he told me. “I’d be lying if I said I liked you, but I don’t want to dislike you.”

The raven drew close enough for him to gently grab it and pull it out of the cage. He sat there, cradling it with one hand and gently stroking it with the other. “It’s a beautiful animal, isn’t it? Delicate. Intelligent.” He looked into my eyes. Why hadn’t I noticed the eyes before? The smile, the gentle voice…they told lies when you looked at them on their own. Looking in his eyes, I could see what he really was: a wolf, poised to strike. That was what was off about him that I couldn’t place. It was the anticipation. I knew what was coming next even before he said the words. I knew what he planned to do to that poor bird.

“And yet…so fragile.” In an instant, his hand had wrapped around the bird’s neck and twisted.

The sound of cracking bones isn’t one easily forgotten. I heard Caper’s break the night he died, and I flinched as the memory came back. I closed my eyes and hugged my arms to myself, reliving those terrible minutes over and over and over again in the space of mere seconds. I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else, free of this apartment and the memories in it. I wanted to hide away from everything and get smaller and smaller until I disappeared and the pain disappeared with me. But I couldn’t. I had to be strong. I forced my eyes open. Wormwood set the dead bird in front of me.

“I look forward to working with you, Raven,” he told me.

He left to bring the rest of his things up to the apartment. I fled to my room. I wouldn’t be able to forget the sound of the raven’s neck snapping, but I could at least distance myself from it.

The truly terrible part, though, is that even with it dead, a part of me still wanted to keep it.