Disclaimer: The Crow belongs to James O'Barr
Disclaimer: The Crow belongs to James O'Barr. This is my tribute to his dark art that sustained me during my teenager years and my own spin on his original idea, had it happened in Cape Town, South Africa. The Event Horizon and all the support characters belong to me.
The house in Robins Street had an air of neglect about it. It looked like all the others in its row but its shuttered windows, missing a few slats here and there, presented a blank face to passers-by. More weeds pushed up than grass in the small patch of garden out front. The paving was uneven and, frankly, downright dangerous for unwary feet as the pathway led to the front door. A brass doorknocker cast in the shape of a devil glared outwards, green with verdigris. It had been set into a door whose red paint peeled off to reveal a verdant undercoat.
Daphne stood before her new home, turning the key over and over in her right hand. Number twenty-three.
"Oh, it needs a bit of TLC," the estate agent had gushed. "The owner passed away, and the family has decided to rather let the place out until the property market's more favourable."
Daphne had signed on for a three-month lease. The place would do until she was certain that she'd settle in her new job. And, here she stood, with the contents of her life filling one rucksack and three cardboard boxes. As far as she was concerned, Alex could keep the rest. She was through dealing with his shit. Even if it meant that she had to give up on the creature comforts that she had taken for granted, she would start afresh.
Inside, the place was still a mess. This had not bothered her when she'd first dropped in with the estate agent to take a look with the view to renting, but now the disarray niggled at her, not that she'd have much to unpack.
Boxes and crumpled-up newspapers were strewn all the way down the passage, the oak floors scuffed and badly in need of polish. Peeking into the first bedroom, to her right, she wondered what in hell had stained the wood leading in from the doorway. Brown smudges on the wall would most likely come off if she scrubbed but she cursed the fact that she still had to purchase cleaning materials. The past few days had been so hectic.
The second bedroom didn't fare much better. It was so dark and she couldn't open the shutters. She'd opt for the first because at least it had a window seat. She found a dead bird, mummified with age, in the open-plan lounge/kitchen area. She assumed it to be a pigeon and gingerly scooped it up with a torn of piece of cardboard, disposing of it in the veritable jungle that was the back garden.
The broken bulbs of tik lollies crunched beneath her feet – gods truth how she hated druggies – and to think that no one had cleaned up in here since the miscreants had been here. She could only hope that no drug-crazed youngsters tried their luck with her at home. For reassurance she patted her belt knife. Good thing she knew how to use this. She'd gained something from having been with Alex and his incessant self-defence training. This was South Africa, after all. You never knew when and how they would attack.
A thick layer of dust coated everything. Daphne despaired of ever winning against this. She only started her new job in a week's time. She'd hoped to spend some of this time familiarising herself with Cape Town, but now resigned herself to the distinct possibility that she would be cleaning instead. She did find the remains of a ratty old broom in the kitchen, so she swept out the main bedroom, rolled out her sleeping mat and consoled herself by going out for a meal.
Observatory, nestling on Table Mountain's eastern slopes, was not such a bad neighbourhood. Oh, she'd heard stories from some ex-Capetonian friends up in Jozi that the place had a bad element, with drug dealers and roving gangs, but now, in the late afternoon where the mountain's shadow cast the suburb into a hazy evening, she found nothing untoward in this suburb. Here artists, musicians, hippies, Rastafarians, goths, students and trendy professionals all co-existed in an eclectic mix that seemed to work. Muslims shared boeka treats with their Christian neighbours during Eid. Often, Lower Main Road would be shut down for riotous street festivals with live music, falafel stalls and custom-made clothing. This bohemian air that clung to Victorian-age buildings appealed to Daphne, especially after having had to put up with her ex-lover's stuffed-shirt yuppiedom for the past three years.
No one would look askance of her if she walked down to the local SuperSpar without wearing shoes. She mused on all these thoughts as she returned home, munching on a spicy vegetarian roti. She was gratified to meet the neighbours living opposite to her at number twenty-two. A thirty-something gothic couple and their young blond progeny climbed out of a purple Mercedes – an old 1960s model – with black bats stencilled on the bonnet.
"Hi there," Daphne said by way of greeting, walking over.
The man, his long black hair tied back in a ponytail, did not notice her while taking the child inside but the woman, a slight, pale creature with blue, purple and black-dyed hair and a vulpine face, put down her groceries to approach Daphne. She leant over the wrought-iron gate to shake hands, smiling in recognition.
"I saw you come in this afternoon. Welcome to Obz. I'm Tanya."
"Daphne. Hi. Thanks."
"You must just shout if you need help with anything. No one has lived in your place for more than a year and the kids in the neighbourhood have broken in a few times to, well… you know."
She shrugged her narrow shoulders as if she had a reason to apologise.
"I'm not planning on staying forever," Daphne admitted. "Kinda between jobs at the moment so I don't have much cash. I'm starting at a production company in Oxford Street soon. I didn't want to drive so I figured I'd take what I'd get and start looking for a better place once I know the job's gonna work out."
"Ah, all right. Ja, that place is like creepy as hell. Richard and me have been living here for like forever. The previous owner was murdered, did your estate agent tell you that?"
A sick chill clutched at Daphne's belly. "No way."
"Oh, yes!" Tanya, in true South African fashion, sensed that she now had an opportunity to share another grisly urban tale to virgin ears. "Don't know if you ever heard about the artist Simon de Villiers?"
Daphne shook her head.
"Well, he used to live in that place you're renting. About three years ago, his girlfriend was hi-jacked right in front of the house and, not too long after that, the gangsters came back, to finish him off, 'cos he'd seen everything."
Daphne shivered. "How horrible. So, why…"
Tanya gripped the gate to lean over further and bits of black paint flaked off on her fingers.
"I don't want to be funny," she whispered, "but we think the place is haunted."
"Well, I don't believe in ghosts," Daphne replied; only half convinced. "I've signed a three-month lease and I can't afford to pay the rent on two places so the ghosts will have to put up with me."
"I'm just saying, you know. The last tenant stayed only two nights. Ran screaming out on the last night yelling about terrible nightmares and crows trying to peck out his eyes. That was a year ago. The previous tenant lasted all of six weeks and, before that, the place was empty."
"I'll come and knock on your door if things start flying about of their own accord," Daphne concluded. "Thank you for the heads up."
"Have a good night then," Tanya laughed, turning to walk up to her front door. "Good to meet you. You should drop by for coffee some time."
Daphne grimaced as she went her own way. That was just typical. How often had she embarked on a new venture only to have someone else run it down in some way? She paused to regard the house in the fading light and could not discern anything frightening about it. Yes, the bougainvillea had run rampant over the front patio, spilling its magenta flowers to the ground and yes, the yellow paint on the walls was so rough and peeling it was obvious to anyone that the place had been deserted for quite some time. But, like it or not, it was her home, for now, and she'd have to make the best of it.
Daphne cursed when she flicked the switch and discovered that the lights did not work. Illuminating her way using her cellphone's screen, she stumbled through to the kitchen where she investigated the electricity box. The counter read 00.00. Of all the things to forget, she had not asked Stella, the estate agent, whether or not the place had enough units of electricity and, Stella, in her infinite wisdom, had not given Daphne the electricity card. Daphne would have to wait until morning to sort things out and, thank fuck tomorrow was a Saturday and not a Sunday. There was a chance that someone at the estate agency would be at the office to help her.
Remembering the candles she'd seen in the bathroom and what she hoped was a box that still had some matches still in it, Daphne fiddled until she found three stubs of half-melted wax that she fixed to a broken saucer. She may not be able to brew a cup of tea, but at least she'd be able to unpack some of her things and see that she didn't end up squishing any bugs underfoot.
She encountered the old shoebox when she opened the top cupboard to stow her empty packing cases (she'd need those in a few months' time, in any case). Her fingers brushed against the cardboard and the heaviness of the object told her that it must contain something.
Standing on the tips of her toes, she only just managed to hook the box down. This would be interesting. As a child she'd always loved prying through her grandmother's things when she was sure that the old lady wasn't watching.
On the outside, the box was unremarkable, without any branding indicating what style of shoes it may once have contained. At one point, rats had nibbled at one of the longer sides and her questing fingers encountered the unmistakable texture of photographs among glossy, printed papers. Her interest piqued, she carried the box over to her sleeping mat, where she squatted by the candles, whose light cast a garish, wobbling pool of light in the small bedroom. Hopefully there weren't any spiders or other nasties lurking inside.
Was this left behind by one of the tenants or did this box contain other, darker secrets? Lifting the lid, she scooped a handful of photographs and flyers out. The flyers advertised parties at The Event Horizon and she assumed that it was a local hangout for all the alternative types, judging by the styling. Skulls, intertwined roses and headstones leapt out at her. She made out the shapes of bats and illustrations of gothic waifs. There were flyers advertising body piercing and tattoo parlours. Whomever this belonged to, the person was very much into his or her subcultures. Then, Daphne encountered the photographs. Shot predominantly in black and white, they depicted the same young woman with dark hair and serious eyes. She did not smile often but struck various poses in graveyards, forests or by the sea. Her moon-shaped face made Daphne think of porcelain dolls and this was aided by her dress sense, which seemed to consist mainly of dark hues in silks and lace, her eyes staring, their gaze penetrating through time. Who was this girl and why were there so many photographs of her stuffed into this dusty box?
The last item that her trembling fingers found was a small scrap of canvas about the size of Daphne's palm. It appeared to have been torn from a larger work. All she could make out was a pale, delicate hand clutching a red rose, painted onto a sable background. Every element, down to small drops of moisture on the rose petals, had been painted with attention to detail. On impulse, Daphne raised the scrap to her nose and inhaled the faintest whiff of patchouli.
This must have belonged to Simon, the artist. The girl in the photographs must have been his girlfriend, the one who was hijacked. But then, what had happened to her? Tanya had not mentioned what fate the girlfriend had experienced. Daphne felt a sudden cold thrill travel down her spine. She loved mysteries. She'd visit an internet café the following day. Google would surely shed some light on this. What story lay here for her to unravel?
XXX Footnotes XXX
South Africanisms: Here we have a wonderful crime, hi-jacking. It's a combination of armed robbering and kidnapping. Mostly, you get shot, they take your car. Sometimes they take you, your car, rob you and dump you in a neighbourhood far from home, sans jewellery, wallet and valuables. If you're lucky, they just take your car.