...Or Be Forever Fallen
by A. Merc Rustad
The raven's ghost follows first. It's not a surprise, if I'm honest. I killed a raven once -
intentional, cruel - some time ago. (I don't remember why.) At first I saw it in the distance while
I prowled the ruins of the once-majestic forest, hunting the men who robbed me. Yet the ghost
never approached until now.
It perches on a petrified tree stump. The light from the campfire shimmers against its
glossy feathers, blood etching razor-edged plumage. It should be indistinguishable in the night,
banked in shadow. I only know it's a ghost from the hollows of its missing eyes, how its shape
bends in unnatural directions at the corners of my sight.
"I've naught for you." I say it to the knives laid out on oiled canvas before me.
The raven's ghost makes no sound. Its unnatural muteness tightens the muscles in my
neck. Ghosts are never silent. Death is neither gentle nor kind.
I must act quickly, before the ghost destroys me. I don't know why it's waited, since it
must have come for a reason. There's no dawn in this land - a ghost can wait forever, and I can
no longer endure its presence. I haven't slept in … well. I don't remember that, either.
The bandits who stole my name left me savaged but alive, my memory no better than
moth-chewed rags, loose threads, the narrative of who I was scattered between holes. I remember
cold plains that aren't home, a familiar-soft touch on my neck, planting grape vines in summer,
pain (maybe mine, maybe not), and great pools of emptiness between.
The raven cocks its head.