The Black Crow of Purgatory (Part 3 of 3)
Draft for a 3 part short story
The Black Crow of Purgatory Part 3 of 3
Janey scrambled out of the bedroom leaving her bare-chested lover staring at the intruder. John wasn’t sure why but he chose to look at the mirror on the sideboard rather than at his murderer. He was shocked to see that his face was now white-washed with what looked like grease paint. His lips were bright red and his eyes surrounded by smudged, black eyeliner. He looked ghoulish like a malevolent clown. His attire remained as it was before, a torn and shredded, blue pin-striped suit coated in blood stains and dust. It all added to the bizarreness of the situation.
Gary was frozen with fear. His mind raced at the sight of a home invader who like an escaped lunatic from a fancy dress store. He took a breath and asked “Who are you?” His voice trembled slightly, desperate to make a break for it. The refugee from Halloween was now standing between the bed and the door having circled around the bottom. John just stared at the man in the bed curiously, cocking his head to one side and noting his features. For a split second his mannerisms made him look more like a bird. He took in every line and crease on the man’s face and wondered what had drawn his fiancé to him. Hatred well up inside. John generally had no inclination for violence. He considered himself one of the intelligentsia so resolving issues through force was to be abhorred. There was so much to say, many, many questions but he couldn’t speak. Everything had happened so fast. One minute he was on his way to work, the next standing ominously in his bedroom looking at someone who not only had been having an affair with his beloved but also appeared to have pushed him off a train platform.
The tense stand-off was brought to a shuddering halt as the bedroom door was thrown open and Janey reappeared. She was holding a small, handgun (she carried her Sig P365 everywhere in her handbag), still dressed in panties and a white top. Her eyes were full of wild panic and she was breathing heavily. John spun around to see what the noise was, the motion taking him into Gary’s eye line. The man in the bed scrambled and rose on to his knees to see what Janey was doing. The next few seconds unfolded in what, to John, was like slow motion; like one of those bullet scenes from “The Matrix”. Everything slowed to a crawl as he saw sparks and fire cascade from the muzzle of the gun, a metallic slug erupting outwards and across the room. The sound of the gun shot was a drawn out roar and John’s eyes followed the trail of the missile as it tracked towards him. His expression of surprise turned to curiosity as the bullet passed right through his chest and out the other side. It exploded into Gary’s midriff. More screams. More blood. The man in the bed put his hand to the wound and smeared crimson red fluid onto his hands. He looked up in shock and then fell back, his eyes closing for the last time.
The shrouded forest was an unwitting arrival point for many. Belief in life after death was a precious thing clinged to by the majority that came this way. Fewer expected a half-way house where faith meant little and closing tragic loops in time was more important. Here again a man found himself lost and wandering. This victim was wearing only boxer shorts and light socks. In other circumstances he would have been exposed and cold but, oddly, he didn’t feel a chill despite the lack of clothing. He couldn’t recall any events prior to finding himself roaming this desolate place. He felt a compulsion to escape his current surroundings. He couldn’t see much other than fog and the occasional outline of bare trees. The mist did finally part and he found himself standing in front of an intimidating pair of iron gates. He entered the graveyard and walked along a gravel path. He had a bullet wound with a trail of dried blood that led from his sternum to his stomach. He couldn’t recall the circumstances behind being shot. It was frustrating not being able to remember. He hoped his memories would return. In the corner of his eye he registered movement. He turned his head and saw a black crow sitting on top of a tombstone. He made his way across the grass and confronted the bird. It stared at him with a hole dug in front of the head stone. Gary stared at the granite which had the following words etched on it “Gary Drusler born 1st August 1995 died 31st October 2021 Mourned by his partner Jane and his mother and father Gary Senior and Pamela. May he rest in Peace.”
Gary remembered. He could see the bedroom, the crazed lunatic with the face made up like a clown. He could see Janey standing in the doorway firing the gun. He could see the bullet passing through the man standing between him and his girlfriend. He had been gunned down by his lover. It was an accident, though. The shot was not intended for him. He looked down into the rectangular hole and saw blackness. Dirt crumbled down the sides but he couldn’t see the bottom. He looked up and at the crow. The bird was peering right through him. It was still and motionless. Gary felt fear course through his body. This was all for him and he didn’t want any of it. He started to turn to face the other way with a view to breaking into a sprint. He hadn’t noticed the shadowy figure that had followed him from the eerie, lifeless forest to the graveyard and now here. Gary looked up to see two arms reach out and push him in the chest. He fell into the waiting pit; the fall seemed endless. It was all so quick that he didn’t have time to call out. Instead, he drifted soundlessly into the bowels of the grave. His last sight was of a grease-painted ghoul watching him as the face got smaller and smaller until…..the darkness claimed him.
John fell to the ground panting from the exertion. Dropping to his knees onto the moss covered ground, he hugged himself, scrunching into as snail-like ball. He rocked back and forth, in pain with what he had done and distraught that he had lost everything. He had wanted revenge almost as though it had been expected of him. Killing a man wasn’t an easy thing; it wasn’t a normal thing. Tears spilled from his eyes and bounced gently off the hard ground as they landed throwing tiny clouds of dirt into the air. He could feel drops of rain falling, drowning his tears in splashes from above. He heard the gentle flapping of wings. He looked up to see the crow flying off into the distance. He rose slowly and followed the flight path. The slate-grey sky had been replaced with a clear, empyrean canvass filled with stars shining brightly like an infinite gathering of pin heads on a cushion. The darkness above was a glorious, navy blue with wisps of galaxies whirling amongst the tiny spots of white light emanating from suns millions of light-years in the distance. A comet fizzed across the horizon.
John wasn’t a religious man, particularly. He attended mass as a child and would go along to church when he remembered. He wasn’t the most devout of Catholics but he did believe. He believed in a higher presence. He wondered about this place. He couldn’t imagine that it was Heaven and it didn’t seem very Hell-like. Like most, he pondered the concept of an after-life and hoped that there was one.
A few hundred yards on, a large, stone mausoleum occupied a swath of land instead of rows of graves. On the walls of the square structure were carvings of Greek characters – women carrying carafes of wine, figures wearing togas lounging on benches in what looked like celebration. On the front of the crypt was a door, also made of granite. John stood in front of the structure, the crow perched on the roof watching him from above. He walked up to the entrance and pushed. The handle-less ingress didn’t move at first. It took all of his strength to get it to arc inwards. At first his effort made a difference of millimetres. This turned to centimetres and, finally, the door shifted enough so he could see inside. A blinding white light shone from the area within the building. As the gap became wider, he felt a sense of inner calm envelope his whole body. He could now slip inside. He looked again for the crow but the bird had gone. John Thomas took a step forward and left this realm for the last time.
Image free to use via WikiCommons at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crow#/media/File:Corvus_corone_-near_Canfo...
Thank you to anyone that made it through all 3 parts. The story is influenced by the movie “The Crow (1994)”. It starred an ill-fated Brandon Lee who died filming a stunt involving a gun. Tragic echoes of this incident happened recently with a similar shooting involving Alec Baldwin on a movie set.
For anyone interested in the notion of “Purgatory” there was a wonderfully funny comedy on Netflix called “The Good Place” aired 2016-2020. Starring Ted Danson of “Cheers” fame, the final episode is one of the most moving pieces of television I have ever seen and may give you a different take on life and death.
This story ran to c.4,600 words and is my second longest piece after “Empire State” which I wrote and posted in 2020. My thanks to the wonderful readers, writers and editors at ABC Tales. I have learned so much from other people on here over the last year, in particular.