Rigid sleeps the house in darkness, I alone
Like a thing unwarrantable cross the hall
And climb the stairs to find the group of doors
Standing angel-stern and tall.
-D. H. Lawrence, Phantasmagoria
It was some nights after Halloween when Jonathan, still giddy from victory, got the chance to act on the schemes for revenge that grew in his brain. It was a school night, and he was very tired, falling on his bed and slipping into a troubled sleep. There was a thunderstorm outside, a straggler from summer. Jonathan hated thunderstorms, especially when they made it impossible for him to get badly needed rest. He tried every position he could think of - on his back, on his stomach, hunched up in a fetal position. His body ached. Grunting, he turned over on his side, forcing himself to sleep.
Tomorrow was a test day, he told himself, and he needed rest. No matter if it hurt him or not, he would get some sleep. He shut his eyes tight, holding them closed. Just as it was beginning to work, he heard a noise coming from the bathroom downstairs.
One eye flickered open, frustrated. His first thought was that Gran must have left the bathroom faucet running by accident, in which case he would have to go downstairs and turn it off himself. He would need to be fast and quiet to avoid being caught, as Gran didn't like it when he was awake and out of bed. Maybe he could just try to sleep through the faucet and stay out of trouble.
When Jonathan flung himself against the bed, the dripping seemed to intensify. Gritting his teeth, he tried and failed again to simply ignore it. He couldn't sleep through that, and he didn't know how Gran could, either. She would be asleep, and if he went down to the bathroom to turn the faucet off he would be doing both of them a favor. He sat up with a small sigh, rubbed the pain out of his weary eyes, and got to his feet. Turning the doorknob, he entered the hallway, little more than a shadow.
Jonathan both liked and didn't like exploring the Keeny manor at night. It was an adventure, for sure, and Jonathan Crane's wild imagination meant that he always enjoyed adventures and exploring. However, exploring would be a lot more fun without the threat of the chapel and the crows. The old house positively frightened him. It felt like the body of some enormous animal, its hallways a labyrinth of guts, and Jonathan himself some little creature that it had swallowed up. Even the thunderstorm dimly reminded him of a pounding heart.
Seeing a black-and-white photograph to his right, barely visible in the darkness of the hall, Jonathan took a closer look. It was the Keeny living room in better days. There was a fire burning in the fireplace, and the stone cherub that he recognized from his own visits was in one piece and free of cobwebs.
There were four people posed for the photograph - a girl several years younger than himself stood beside a well-dressed husband and wife, both of them gently stern. A proud white cockatoo was perched on the man's arm while his wife was feeding it crackers. Jonathan realized that the man had to be his great-great grandfather, the one who built the aviary, considering his love of birds. He was young and handsome, wearing wire spectacles, the angles of his face vaguely similar to Jonathan's. His wife had a calm, amused look, her pale dress almost the same color as old Mr. Keeny's cockatoo. A little boy, who must have been Mary's long-deceased brother, was crouched by his father's knee.
The girl was Mary Keeny, but there wasn't anything frightening about her in the photograph. She was smiling, something he had almost never seen her do as an adult. Jonathan was unable to reconcile the happy little girl in the picture with the bitter hag who he lived in fear of. Besides, Gran hated old Keeny. She thought that he was a coward for killing himself. In the photograph, she seemed to love him.
They couldn't be the same person. Jonathan couldn't imagine Gran loving anybody. She certainly didn't love her own great-grandson, or her parents. He left the photograph behind with a mild sense of discomfort, resolving never to look at it again. It confused him too much.
He continued to slowly pick his way along the hallway, jamming himself into the wall whenever he even thought he heard something. His thin body, even though people teased him for it, was a great help to him whenever he needed to hide. While Gran probably wouldn't be awake this late at night, he couldn't afford to be wrong. He stopped beside an enormous window, looking out at the storm. He could barely see through the pounding sheets of rain. No one was outside.
"All right," he said to himself with a deep breath, "I only need to make it to the bathroom, turn off the sink, and make it back to my room to sleep. That's it. I'll be fine." He swallowed hard, creeping downstairs and trying to make as little noise as possible. He couldn't help but make a little as his feet touched the steps, but no one came. He sighed in relief when he made it to the bottom without incident.
The bathroom was close to the stairs, and it was easy for Jonathan to find it and go inside. He turned on the light. To his surprise, the faucet wasn't running. The noise must have been coming from somewhere else. Jonathan reasoned that it was probably the rain dripping off the roof or something like that. There had been no need for him to come down at all. He almost laughed at the stupidity of what he had done.
He quietly shut the door, fully intending to forget the dripping and go back to his room, when he heard something moving in the kitchen. Part of him wanted to escape while he still could and get at least a little sleep, but Jonathan was always curious. The potential danger did nothing to turn him back this time. Gulping down his fear, he quietly slunk down the dining room to the kitchen, opened the wooden door and braced himself for what he might see.
What he did see almost made him shut the door immediately and retreat to his room in sheer terror. He breathed in sharply. Gran was wide awake, the kitchen was lit, and she was hard at work on...something. Jonathan couldn't tell exactly what she was doing, but he decided to find out, taking the risk of being caught. She was holding a small container, something like a salt shaker, but what came out wasn't salt. It looked like some sort of herb. As he watched, it fell into a pot that lay on the cabinet.
Jonathan was about to dismiss it as Gran probably cooking breakfast and turn away when she pulled out something else that stopped his breath. It was a very large and very dead gray rat. For an instant he was confused - as eccentric as Gran was, what use would she possibly have for dead rats? He knew that they were pests and had seen the poison scattered around the manor for them, but collecting the corpses was beyond morbid and disgusting. He felt like he wanted to rush to the bathroom and throw up.
In the silver flash of a knife a river of red flowed into the pot. The rat was still dripping when Jonathan was finally able to look back at the disemboweled corpse. He could feel his supper, sour and partly digested, rising up from his stomach and sitting in his throat. He couldn't see anything but the blood. He watched in mixed awe and terror as Gran squeezed the creature over what he realized was a very familiar Sunday suit. The suit turned red from the rat's juices. Gran then applied some of the mixture from the pot to it, smearing it brown.
Jonathan, while frightened and disgusted, the most terrified he ever remembered being in his life, couldn't tear his eyes away. His instincts told him that what he was about to see would be very important. She had to be tainting his Sunday suit for a reason, and if he wasn't so frightened he might be able to figure out what it was. Seemingly satisfied, she kept the dead rat and left the bloody suit on a wooden prop. Confident that she couldn't see him, Jonathan cautiously held the door open and watched her fetch her umbrella.
She wasn't going out in the storm, was she? She would have to be insane. Jonathan wouldn't have done it, but he was frightened of thunderstorms. Gran mustn't have been. When she shut the door behind her, Jonathan darted into the room and ran to the window to get a look at what she was doing.
Why was she still carrying that filthy rat corpse, for one thing? He didn't know how long it had been dead for, and it might have been poisoned or diseased. He still couldn't get the image of Mary Keeny gutting the rat out of his head. Even when he shut his eyes he saw the blood draining into Gran's pot. He definitely wouldn't sleep tonight. Not unless he wanted horrific nightmares.
A crack of thunder made him jump, and he pressed his face to the glass, struggling to see through the pouring rain. Gran, amazingly, was outside in her black dress, carrying the parasol and the soggy body of the rat. She didn't seem the least bit afraid of the storm. Jonathan, spellbound, watched her approach the corn, holding the corpse by the tail. He hoped that she wouldn't turn and see him. While he didn't know what possessed him to stand there, waiting to be caught, something kept him from leaving while he had the chance and scurrying to his room. He felt a sense of foreboding that prickled at the hairs of his neck.
Gran strode up the stone path, confident, scarcely noticing the rain, holding the mangled rat in a way that was both darkly comic and unsettling. Jonathan watched as she entered the cornfield, her eyes not even twitching at another burst of thunder that rattled the walls of the manor and almost made Jonathan, transfixed as he was, run for cover.
There, its frayed clothes soaked by the storm, was the Keeny scarecrow, a barely distinguishable mass of burlap and cloth. Gran approached it, eyed it for a while, and placed the dead rat on its shoulder. She silently turned and left the grotesque thing where it had been laid. But why had she done it? Jonathan squinted, watching the scarecrow through the window. There had to be a reason. He was beginning to make a few tentative guesses as he remembered what she had done to his suit.
With a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning, Jonathan got his answer. A flock of crows, probably the same ones that made their nests in the chapel, plunged out of the sky. It became a seemingly endless stream of dark feathers and thrashing wings. There were more of them than Jonathan had ever seen, probably all of the crows in Arlen, all descending on the ragged scarecrow with their beaks and talons ready. They set on it, slashing and tearing at the rat on its shoulder, greedily devouring the meat. Still more of them went for the scarecrow itself, pecking at it as if it was food, too. In their recklessness, some of them even turned on each other. A couple of the smaller crows fell from the murder, badly injured or worse. Their vicious behavior wasn't unlike what they did to Jonathan in the chapel...
Something sparked in Jonathan's brain as he made the connection. The rats' blood, the herbs, they must have turned the crows crazy. The mixture, when applied to the scarecrow, made them think of and treat it like prey. When applied to his Sunday suit, the crows would behave as if Jonathan was something that they could kill and eat, at least until the feeding frenzy wore off and they realized that he wasn't their normal food. He would have stayed to watch the horrendous, gripping sight, but remembered that Gran would be coming back. She wouldn't be pleased to see that Jonathan had learned her secret.
He scrambled back upstairs, his brain simmering with what he had seen and learned. Part of him was disgusted, but a bigger part was darkly fascinated. Before this, he had believed Gran when she had said that the crows attacked him to punish his bad behavior. Now he knew better. He didn't know the precise mechanics of how she did it, but the chemical she made with the rat blood turned the crows vicious. There wasn't anything divine in what Gran did. As the picture in the hallway had shown him, she was only human. Why, if Jonathan knew the recipe that she used, he could do the exact same thing himself!
A small, malicious smile came to his face as that sank in. Gran was preparing a punishment for him. Instead she had provided him with the weapon he needed for his revenge. Going after Bo was tempting, but he decided to target Jackie Grey first as an experiment. He still had the burn marks on his flesh from what Jackie had done to him, and as far as Jonathan was concerned payback was long overdue.
Gran had controlled and dominated him through fear ever since Jonathan was a little boy. Now that he was growing up, Jonathan could play the same game and use the same tools to get the bullies to leave him alone. If he could make an example of Jackie, the bullies would be afraid of him.
Even better, now that he knew Gran's secret, his fear of the chapel disappeared. All he would have to do to stop the crows from attacking was remove his suit. He could venture into the forbidden room when Gran was out and take back Ulysses without any fear. His smile turning into a frown, he decided that getting the book back would be the first test of his new freedom. Of course, he wouldn't let her see any signs that he was in on her little trick. Not yet.
While Gran finally settled in, Jonathan Crane, a new, fierce determination in his face, stood beside his room's window, unaffected by the storm and for once fearless.
Two days after his discovery, Jonathan first made his move. He still acted meek and frightened in front of Gran, if only to keep her from suspecting him. If she had any idea of what he was planning to do, she would take precautions, perhaps hiding away the recipe where he couldn't get at it or locking the door to the forbidden room. She couldn't do that until he had memorized or copied her formula for controlling the crows. Once that was done, it didn't matter what she did next.
Every afternoon, she would go to the bedroom or her rocking chair and have a nap. There was a schedule to it that Jonathan had put to memory. From five to seven o' clock every day, while Mary Keeny slept, Jonathan Crane would be lord and master of the Keeny manor. He used this chance for a variety of things. As a very small boy, he spent most of his time dusting off Marion's old books. His personal favorite was a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes, many of which he knew by heart long after he had outgrown them. As a teenager he spent more time exploring the safe areas of the manor, creeping and sneaking along hallways to examine pictures and snatch old record books. At fourteen he knew almost as much about the history of the Keeny family as Gran herself.
There were a few rooms which Jonathan hadn't dared to visit yet. Gran's room, while he was curious about it and peeped inside every once in a while, was too close to her for comfort. He knew she kept a diary by her bedside, unprotected, and he would have liked to steal it briefly to see if there was any information that could be useful to him. If he was braver, he could slink inside, take the book, read it, and put it back before she even knew it was missing. He wanted to know the truth about what had happened when he was born and why his mother abandoned him to Gran's care.
Unlike Gran, who had a reputation for meanness, the people of Arlen saw Karen Keeny as more careless than cruel. All the same, the Keeny taint, combined with her reputation, would give her trouble in finding a husband. Apparently Jonathan's mother was a drug addict and drinker. Gran didn't seem very concerned about what happened to Karen, since she saw both of the Keeny women as disgraces to the family name. Jonathan had never heard her say a single kind thing about Karen. He could understand why his mother lived in Latham with Grandma Marion. It was probably just as well for her that she was out of reach, even if only half of the rumors around her were true.
After finishing his dinner, Jonathan waited at the table and watched Gran hobble to the walking chair where she spent most of her afternoons. He had to force himself not to give a knowing grin. This afternoon, he had his own plans, but he couldn't start until she was fast asleep. He obediently sat beside his empty plate, hands on his lap, waiting for her to tell him what to do.
"Go to your room, boy," Gran said, very briefly looking back. "Remember to stay there. You know the punishment if you don't."
Jonathan bowed his head, faking obedience. He urged himself not to smile. "Yes, Gran. I will." She was fooled. With a sigh, she slouched in the chair, leaving Jonathan the only person in the house who was still awake. After giving her some time, letting her sink into a deep enough sleep that she wouldn't wake up, he stood and stretched his cramped limbs. He would need to be fast and quiet if he wanted to enter the forbidden room without waking Gran. His first visit would have to be a short one. He could always come back later if he wanted or needed anything else.
Even if he knew how he could avoid an attack from the crows, he still wanted to stay out of the chapel. It was cold and damp, meaning that he could get sick, and he preferred a warm bed to sleeping on the stone floor. That wasn't even taking the shards of broken glass into account. Still, knowing how she trained the crows to attack him gave a slight advantage, provided that he could take off the Sunday suit in time. The only problem was that she might be suspicious if he came out unhurt. Until he figured out his next move, Jonathan would be on his best behavior.
When he heard Gran snoring, Jonathan crept out of the kitchen, moving as quickly as he could and keeping to the walls. There were a handful of close calls. At one point he accidentally knocked a dusty vase off of a shelf, only just managing to catch it in time. His heart was throbbing behind his ribcage. He was half-sure that, any moment, his footsteps would be too loud and Gran would wake up, catching him.
When he made it to the steps, his tense muscles relaxed a little, although he never dared to let down his guard. His eyes were wide and frightened, slowly growing used to the darkness. He considered and decided against getting the flashlight. It would be too incriminating if Gran found him, and he could find his way without it. It was his house. He passed an empty guest room and stopped just outside Gran's bedroom, deciding to poke his head in to see what she had.
Mary Keeny was not particularly good at keeping house. Jonathan could barely see anything, even when he turned the lamp on. Books were scattered on the floor, all of her heirlooms were dusty, and there were spider webs strewn in the room's corners. Jonathan came in, trying not to step on anything. Seeing a small colored photograph on a table, he picked it up, breathing on it to clear the dust away.
It was of Gran and a slightly younger Jonathan in his Sunday suit, both standing in the garden. She was smiling, although there was no kindness in her face, and an expressionless Jonathan was hunched beside her, head low and eyes avoiding the camera. She had her hands on one of his shoulders. He thought back to the old picture in the hallway of Mary Keeny as a little girl, playing with her parents and brother. It was hard to imagine that they were the same person. Even he could barely accept it.
"What happened to you?" he asked the woman in the photograph, although he was looking at the skinny little boy. Jonathan would need both photographs to compare them properly, but he realized that he looked a lot like Gran's dead brother. The only significant difference was in their hair and eyes - the dead Keeny boy's hair was either dark brown or black, and Jonathan's hair was a bright orange-red. His eyes were blue, like Gran's, while the other boy's had a darker color. He knew that he had been named after one of Gran's own children, Jonathan Keeny, who had failed to survive past infancy.
Unsettled, his sharp eyes turned to Gran's diary, kept beside the picture. It was out in the open, practically inviting him to take it. He had to suppress an impulse to do so. He could do it later, but he had to get Ulysses back while he had the chance. The book was already overdue. After that, he had a score to settle with Jackie Grey and the Chickenhawks. Then, and only then, would he steal the diary. He put back the photograph, hoping that Gran wouldn't realize how it had been cleaned. Forcing himself to back out of the room and shutting the door as softly as he could, Jonathan continued his journey.
The manor never failed to make him feel small and helpless, even though he had felt so brave before. It didn't help that what he was doing was every bit as dangerous as the previous night's exploration, if not even more so. He was about to deliberately disobey the most important rule in the Keeny household. While he wanted to retrieve his library book, Jonathan was also sure that Gran was hiding something from him. She was warning him away from that particular room for a reason. Something was in there that he wasn't meant to see. Thanks to what he had seen before, he had a good idea of what.
Now that his fear of God and Gran's wrath was gone, there was nothing to stop Jonathan Crane from learning Gran's trick. He would figure out everything he could - in particular, how she trained the crows to attack people. He had it in mind to give Jackie Grey a fright that he would never forget. If Jackie was injured as a result of Crane's plan, well, that was hardly undeserved. Even better, if the birds did what they were supposed to, there would be nothing to incriminate Jonathan.
If his experiment was successful, he could play the same trick on his other bullies until they left him alone out of fear. If the birds only attacked people who harassed Jonathan Crane, they would eventually get the hint.
Ulysses, however, had to come first. He had more than enough time to plan his revenge. If he could learn Gran's formula, that would be a bonus. All he had to do was copy it down, learn it by heart, and hide the paper. Gran would never know. Jonathan was very thankful for his good memory.
Jonathan knew which door led to the forbidden room, although he had never dared to open it. It was a ragged old wooden thing on the second floor, parts of it chipped off. He tested the door first to check if it was protected or rigged in any way. To his surprise, it was unlocked. Gran must have been counting on his fear of the chapel to keep him away. It couldn't be that easy. There had to be a trap. He expected her to have some way of marking that the door had been opened, but nothing happened.
Still cautious, Jonathan listened for the sound of footsteps. Nobody came. He gulped down his fear and turned the knob, his skinny body framed against the open doorway, terror and excitement pulsing through his veins. He took a step, still waiting for something terrible to happen, for Gran to wake up and, screaming, haul the disobedient brat to the chapel. His frown turned to a sly smile when he realized that nothing would happen. Without his fear of the chapel, her power over him was broken.
The room was dark and there was no light switch, so it took a while for his eyes to grow used to the darkness. Once he could see, his little smirk turned into a grin. The forbidden room was stuffed full of books, real books, not Gran's musty old things. There were several shelves, covered in cobwebs and dust, waiting for Jonathan to take the books out and restore them. He almost gave a cry of joy, only just remembering what would happen if he was caught.
His tongue held, Jonathan crept along the shelves, delighted by what he saw. Encyclopedias, novels, books of poetry, short story collections, all his to take whenever he wanted. He saw Ulysses at the end of one shelf, neater than the rest. Apparently Gran didn't know the contents of her own collection. She had fallen for Jonathan's lie, mistaking the borrowed book for part of the family library. He didn't see Gran as a heavy reader. The books must have belonged to his Keeny ancestors, maybe even old Mr. Keeny himself.
He felt a confusing mix of emotions. Besides delight and self-satisfaction at his discovery, he was furious with Gran for hiding such a treat from him. Passing the novels, he saw a ladder that extended up to another level of books. Jonathan decided that, since Gran barely visited the Keeny library herself, she wouldn't notice if he "borrowed" two or three books for his own pleasure.
Wriggling up the ladder, Jonathan scanned each shelf, still smiling. He would be back, all right. Every afternoon, while Gran slept, he planned to snatch books from the Keeny library, only replacing them when he was finished and keeping the ones he liked the best. Scanning the shelf at head level, he noticed that they all had to do with the sciences, probably old manuals and textbooks. Geology, paleontology, biology, chemistry...
The last one in particular caught his eye. The title read Advanced Chemistry in black lettering. Unlike the others, Advanced Chemistry was clean, taken out and read relatively recently. This was the one Jonathan needed. He reached out, careful not to slip, and took it from the shelf. Once back on the ground, he opened a sample page. It was full of complex diagrams and long words, far beyond anything in Jonathan's Arlen High textbook. Figuring out Gran's recipe would mean that Jonathan would have to put his knowledge of chemistry to the test.
He knew a few of the ingredients, and if Gran could find the others so could he. Besides, he could pick up guidebooks to identify herbs or the chemicals for the recipe on return visits. His first order of business was copying down and learning the formula for controlling birds. After that, he could make improvements of his own. If crows could terrorize a little boy and tear his back bloody, imagine what eagles or falcons could do! He could change the birds of Arlen from his most feared enemies to his personal army.
On his way out, with the book clasped under one arm, he remembered Ulysses. He quickly swiped it from the shelf where it lay, planning to return it first thing in the morning. After all, he had no need for the Arlen Public Library anymore. What he had right under his nose was much better. With Advanced Chemistry's help, he could have everything he wanted: power over Bo Griggs and the Chickenhawks, happiness, respect from the other kids, and, most importantly, revenge. If he was careful, he could even take Sherry from Bo, both to get her acceptance and to spit in his rival's face.
He couldn't fight the bullies with his fists, as he was too thin and fragile for that. Instead, he could use his brain. Bo had his muscles and his friends, but Crane had intelligence on his side.
However, Bo wouldn't come first. Jonathan still had another first victim in mind. He looked at the burn marks between his fingers to remind himself of who and why. Giving a short, unpleasant laugh, he shut the door behind him before he slipped into his room, still carrying Advanced Chemistry. For once, he actually looked forward to seeing the bullies in the morning.
It would be only poetic justice for Jackson Grey - Chickenhawk team captain, hero of Arlen High School, and arrogant, obnoxious bully - to receive the first taste of Jonathan Crane's newfound power.