Odin's Murder VI Halloween fiction
Art by Dr. Christy Corp-Minamiji
I noticed the first raven on a Wednesday morning. The bird balanced on the tumbled granite of the churchyard across the street, looming black against the pre-dawn sky. It was the fall Equinox, and mornings seemed to have darkened suddenly this year. I was late for a breakfast meeting, so I didn’t take much note of the bird, just nodded and scurried toward the bus stop as charcoal clouds scudded across the sky.
“Lucy!” my boss thundered. “Where’s the Mullner file? How am I supposed to give the blasted presentation without it?”
I smiled and spat into his mug as I poured his coffee. Over my shoulder, I said, “It’s in the folder labeled Hardware.”
He sipped his coffee. “Gods that’s good. I don’t know what you put in here, but your coffee is always best.”
“It’s just – “I stopped. Two crows hopped across the lawn outside the conference room, shaking rain off their feathers and turning to stare through the window. As I paused, a third flew down from the yew tree at the corner of the lawn. As it joined the others, it closed one yellow eye at me. Chills ran across my grave.
The dreams started that night.
A man hung splayed from a golden tree, his plucked out eye tucked high in a fork above his head.
Blood ran down the trunk into the mouth of an impossible wolf, bigger than the world, resting in a den at its roots. My abdomen burned, and looking down I saw my own intestines, pulsing purple and coiling upon themselves, while the wolf’s scarlet tongue pulled the loops between its fangs.
Reality shifted again. The intestines weren’t mine, but they bound me to the tree and fire dripped into my eyes.
Each morning I woke, panting and wiping sweat from my eyes. Each morning one more black bird sat on the branch outside my window. Each morning I felt less Lucy North and more something else – something older and guilty of unspeakable horrors.
I shivered in the shower as steam swirled around my legs. I hadn’t been able to get warm this autumn. We were well into October, and the sun was already just a cool white globe in a distant sky. This morning there were two ravens across the street, one on each side of the weed-choked drive. They looked at something behind me as I stepped off my porch, nodding their beaks. An answering cry came from above. I turned back. Crows and ravens lined the gutters of my roof.
Something dropped at my feet as I got off the bus. Stooping, I picked up a sleek, black feather. My fingers burned.
I dug my phone out of my purse to check emails as I neared the office. There was a voicemail from an unknown number. “Hi Lucy. This is your brother. I hope you like your new friends. I’ll be seeing you soon.”
The phone dropped to the damp pavement. I don’t have a brother. My few childhood memories are of being alone with my mother in our mountain cabin where it always seemed to snow. Music filled the giant hall with beer fumes and bellowing laughter – where did that come from? I tried to pin down the memory as I stooped to get my phone, but it flitted away. Across the street, a bird stared at me from its perch on a bench.
The voice sounded familiar, something heard in dreams like someone I once knew well. I couldn’t stop shivering.
It was already dark when I got off the bus that evening. I could feel the eyes peering down from the nearly bare branches over my head. “Damn birds…” I pulled my coat close around the back of my neck and looked over my head. A bloody eye stared back from the trunk of the tree.
Jumping, I spun around. Moths clustered in a circle over a patch of sap that glowed red in the streetlight. I shook my head and walked home.
My house is one of the older ones on the block and still has a mail slot in the front door. Cursing the burnt out porch light, I bent to pick up the mail. The envelopes felt strange in my hand. I flicked on the kitchen light to see I was clutching a pile of black feathers.
I scrubbed my hands until my fingers bled. Rinsing the last of the red down the drain, I decided I’d feel better after eating. The blue flame coiled around the bottom of the pan and the butter sizzled. I cracked the egg into a black bowl. The yolk stared back at me. A fleck of blood dropped from my finger.
I stabbed my fork into the eye, whisking it as fast as I could. The eye swirled and spun, my blood remaining in the center.
I went to bed early that night, but the dreams followed me under the covers.
This time my view kept changing. I was a veiled woman. I was a serpent coiled around the roots of an impossible tree. I was a wolf, blood dripping from my fangs. I was a giant with a frost-laden beard. I was back again, bound to a tree while poisoned fire dripped past my closed lids and a lone eyeball stared down at me.
When I woke my throat was hoarse from screaming and a black feather lay on my chest.
The phone rang. Still clasping the feather, I rolled over to answer it.
“Hello Lucy,” except he didn’t say Lucy; he said it with a hard k sound.
“Who are you?
“Don’t you remember your brother? Your blood brother? Have you forgotten that too, Oathbreaker?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your dreams say otherwise.”
“What do you know of my dreams?” I felt an accent creeping into my voice, making it thick and harsh.
“I see all. Do you not know that by now? Do you still not recognize my friends?”
“What friends? Not…the birds?” Something, some distant memory was pounding at the inside of my brain. I could feel it trying to escape.
“You feel it, don’t you?” he said. “You remember who you are.”
“My son…” I shook my head; I don’t have kids. “Your…”
“Yes, Loki. A life for a life, son for a son.”
There it was. The old ways, the painful venom of his serpent, the elixir of mistletoe that felled his golden heir, my beautiful boy – my one human child. I met the eye of the raven on my footboard and knew who I was.
In this life as in the others, my mischief and my sins would be my end. Fleshy loops roped me to my mattress, softer than the old stone, but no less a death altar. Black flooded my eyes – crows and ravens filled the room with sharpened beaks.