A sample page from Crow Carriage, an annotated poetic horror novel set in a Victorian English seaside village. This is the format of the Crow Carriage book, a sonnet with an expansive annotation that tells a story in prose below (the same format as my book Flutter available at my website and Twist In Time).
The Night The Crow Must Go Away
You lie beneath a dozen nightmares. Screams
careening down a crow-covered stair wake
you in the last second before the dream.
A skeletal wing28 snags moonbeams. Won’t take
you far away from here on bony back
to disappear in murky lakes hid in
heathered clouds where feathered fauna attract
the few humans allowed, marked and chosen
at their birth. Crows recognize inherent
worth. But for this night, it does fly away
on skittish talons from these cries unfit
for members of a magic flock. You pray
and promise — watch the clock — if he descends
you will, tomorrow, make your amends.
art by Amy Alexander
28The Mistress of Malice spends a childhood of violence and degradations dreaming of crows. At six, in the household of a predator who neglects her, she dreams an entire murder flaps collective charcoal-hued feathers and caws her “awake” though she still is, in fact, dreaming. When she does awake, she is alone with the sounds of her father and the screams of some young girl in the backyard. She feels more alone than she already was.
At twelve, she has the dream she dreams tonight, a recurrent and beloved balm in pain, psychological and physical. It is a skeletal crow she rides into the night to enchanted secret spaces in the sky where other children, like her, join.
The skeletal crow follows the Mistress from home to home where she endures many trials. The crows bequeath a solace of the sky, appearing in the window of her bedchamber at her uncle’s home, her guardian after her father hangs for his crimes.
Cloud Lake, where the crows deposits the Mistress of Malice and other ferried children, envelopes her flesh like a mother would– even if only the ideal of one. The Mistress had a mother for a time, but not the holding sort; she was more the letting go sort – the sort that leaves a household and their offspring at the first sign of misfortune.
Cloud Lake’s mystical waters lap against the bare flesh of children like her – more fortunate in life than she but a recognizable twinkle seen, the Mistress of Malice shares. No neglect or abuse has diminished it from her person.
One fateful night, wandering through town despondent over her abuse and courting trouble, the Mistress saw the Crow Carriage but more significantly the skeletal crow.
“They will not stop until they are stopped.” It was desperate plea for vengeance. Vengeance is understandable with the guilty, but The Doctor will require more for his mentorship — two innocent cousins for his experiment she delivers to him.
After the murders, ensconced in a downstairs bedroom at the estate of The Doctor and told never to wander to the second floor where the experiment is ongoing, the Mistress of Malice lives in denial. Of course, there is screaming – the Doctor had explained that nothing physical or real was happening to these young women besides some withdrawal of blood for scientific purposes. It was simply some noise one should ignore.
They were having nightmares – an unfortunate necessity of the experiment, an experiment that he was quick to add “will save lives, like my own unfortunate brother’s, rest in peace.” The Mistress of Malice knows there are two upstairs in this perpetual nightmare state who she herself offered to The Doctor. Sometimes she even recognizes the scream. She tries, as he suggests, to put it from her mind.
Once upon, a long time ago, she had heard screams and intervened. The young woman in question had been dead by the time the police arrived. The Mistress of Malice had been sent to live with relatives who instead of neglecting her abused her. No one came when she screamed. Not even these two girls she had offered to The Doctor. And she had often screamed.
More than once she had lived in hell, and now she was living in luxury, and she tried to concentrate her attentions only on that fact. It was impossible to notice the absence of visits of the skeletal crow. From the estate of The Doctor, there seems to be no escape even in dreams.
Then this night, it approaches, readying itself to take her in its bald, bony wings and ferry her to the place where she is loved. Except that just at that exact moment, one of the “subjects, “ as The Doctor referred to the girls living upstairs, screamed. It was a scream that disturbed both the Mistress of Malice whose skeleton cringed and flesh bumped, cheeks flushed in shame in the undeniable recognition of the horror she was apart of – and also the skeleton crow. His bones shook and skeletal head turned in an avian manner to question the unfathomable violence he was hearing. Then askance, his view returned to the Mistress of Malice who it looked at suddenly as if he did not recognize who, in fact she was and had come perchance to the wrong house. Soon he flew from the window while tears streamed down the face of the young girl.
Though it had never been expressed to her by the skeletal crows, as nothing verbal ever was, the Mistress of Malice knew these midnight rides she was chosen to take were a sign of specialness. She had some kind of gift or light inside of her that these beasts plainly saw. Even in the daylight, crows had always flocked to her outside and seem to spy on her through her windows. She felt a bitter shame at the terrible views of her that the crows may have seen – things that she had not done but had been done to her.
This had never changed their opinion or the regularity of the crow’s visits to the young woman. They carried her away as if she was one of them just the same. Only tonight, had the change happened – when the crow finally came to this dread estate of experiments on children in which she played a terrible part.
She feels the rejection of the crows. Its somber dismissal pained her more than the loss of her own cold mother years before. She sobs upon her satin bedclothes until they are soaked. Such ornamentations had seemed so important to her at a time, these physical comforts. They feel meaningless now.
The Mistress of Malice knows in her heart she will have to change. If she had any hope of again returning to Cloud Lake upon the back of a crow, she would have to become something other than what she was – a conspirator. She would have to become a rebel and cunning one at that. It was such a risk, and success was far from assured. She was small and an early apprentice in evil whose only teacher would be the one she would have to take down. A teacher who would gladly find a bed for her inside his dormitory of nightmares upstairs, her being in most ways almost exactly like the subjects.
The Mistress was no subject though – but chosen. Though she had thought he was, she clearly knew, from the reactions of the skeleton crow to his handiwork, he was not. If she wanted to be with her kind, she would have to take on The Doctor. She would never be who she was supposed to be until all these girls were free. It was a thought as plain as day — which by now it was – and if she needed any doubt as to the rightness of her plan, a crow rested on her window for a moment, a sign of encouragement then flew suddenly away, ephemeral and as meaningful and meaningless as good thoughts in a time that necessitated action.