"People once believed that when someone dies a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it, and the soul can't rest.
Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right."
It had been a year to the day.
Had it really only been that long? Just a single year? A mere three hundred and sixty five miserable, empty, lonely days?
To a child a year is like a lifetime.
Back then it had felt like forever.
It was raining when I arrived at your building. I was excited and eager to help you with your last dress fitting before the big day. I got there a little late though, and saw the flashing red and blue, the bustling forms in the street. The mournful wail of sirens mixed with the clamour of urgent voices filled the night.
I got scared.
And I found out what had happened, what they had done to you.
That night, Devil's Night, I watched as they carried you out in to the cold, drizzle filled night, lying on the stretcher, whimpering through struggled breaths. Busy cops surrounding you, hurrying along with the nobly concerned paramedics.
I saw you. I heard you ask for Eric. I heard you ask them to tell him to take care of me.
That was you. You were always thinking of others even as you clung on to life, struggling in agony.
I love you.
I didn't see you that night. But later, I found out what had happened. The cop, Albrecht, he told me. He didn't want to. He tried skirting around the details, his face an ever-shifting portrait of discomfort and anger. But I made him tell me. I wanted to know. I had to know it all.
You'd been stabbed once; shot twice, then sent through the loft window.
They found you lying on your back down on the street. Your poor body twisted and broken; crimson rivers of a life now gone mixed with the slithering rain all around you; cold, lifeless, finished, done.
What kind of evil is that?
What kind of senseless cruelty lives in man that allows them to do such terrible things to ones so loving and so full of hopeful dreams?
Sometimes I hate this world.
Sometimes I hate it so much I want to reach up to the sky and scratch and claw at the absent face of god for allowing it to be this way. Even now, on a gloomy, rain sodden night, just like that night all those years ago, I'll raise my face to heaven and ask:
I'm still waiting for an answer.
I know better than most that evil is everywhere. It lives deep down in the hearts of every man and woman, lurking, waiting. It resides in every decision, every choice. It waits on the street corner with the strung out junkie, shaking knife in hand, desperate for cash for a fix. It lurks in the parent who neglects or abuses his or her own child. It fuels the man who wages war and murders the innocent in the name of conquest, religion, freedom, whatever.
Until that night, I'd always thought the innocent were truly powerless. I'd always assumed they existed only to be corrupted and ruined. But on that Devil's Night three hundred and sixty five miserable days after you were both taken away from me I discovered that I was wrong. For there is a force out there as old as time, as old as the oldest star in the heavens. A force that gives a voice, a power to innocence. A power that reaches out beyond the veil of death to bring vengeance down upon those who deserve it. A power that sends its messenger, its totem of retribution, the great black bird as black as death itself back to the land of the living. And with it comes the soul that cannot rest, returned to our world to do what must be done. Put the wrong things right.
And that was how you came back to me, Eric.
You saved my life. Twice.
Later, upon the high church roof from a homicidal maniac. But first, by pulling me from the path of a speeding car in the pouring rain.
"It can't rain all the time," you said.
And I knew then that it was you. It was impossible of course. But I knew.
You told me you couldn't be my friend anymore because I was alive and that you were back for only one reason. You said you had a mission. You said you had vengeance to unleash. And that evil was waiting to be punished. Punished for Shelly and for your lost life together. For a future happiness that never was.
And so it was that all those who had hurt her felt your wrath.
You cast them all down in to the abyss of the forever damned. Every last one of them. Payment in full.
So it was done.
So it was over.
And then it was that you knelt down before my small, hopeful face and told me that you couldn't stay. That this was not your world anymore. That it was time for you to go.
And I cried.
I cried for I knew I was to lose my wonderful friend once more and that the eternal mystery was beckoning you home, calling you back across the sea of night, back to where you now belonged.
Back to Shelly.
Shelly... I thought I saw her, walking towards you from out of the misty grey night, dressed in perfect white, her eyes smiling with the same kindness I had always known. I thought I saw her reach out and touch your head, stroke your hair, kiss you once. I thought I heard her call your name, faint and sweet, carried on the wind.
I blinked only once... And my friend had gone
All that now remained of him, of them both, were memories embodied by those twin grey headstones rising sorrowfully from the cold wet earth. Together forever, two names carved in to the ageless stone of each.
And there, perched on Eric's headstone, the crow, watching me with keen eyes, bidding me to come forward. In its savage beak something glittered in the dimming light. Somehow I knew exactly what the bird wanted of me. I wasn't afraid.
So I went to it and held out my hand.
With such tender care, the crow dropped Shelley's wedding ring in to my open palm.
"Thanks," I murmured.
And it flew away.
And I went home.
Oh, that was so many years ago now.
Was any of it it real or was it all just a dream?
Perhaps the song is right; perhaps life is but a dream.
All these years later, as I try to live a good and happy life, I do often tell myself that that night so long ago now was nothing but a dream. Just a surreal and childish fantasy of wish fulfilment and how I had dealt with the loss of my two best friends in the whole wide world. The outlet for my feelings of such raw anger and resentment at their having been stolen from me before what should have been the happiest day of their lives. Sometimes, while doing the mundane: the laundry; cooking the dinner; doing the shopping, I will laugh at myself for my foolishness; for believing in fairytales; for believing in avengers of innocence from beyond death itself. But then sometimes, just sometimes, when doing those wonderful, beautiful things such as playing with my granddaughter, tending the roses in my garden, kissing my husband goodnight, I will glimpse from the corner of my eye a tiny movement, a fleeting shadow. And I'll feel such comforting warmth come over me as two voices gently whisper through the noise of life, calmly stroking at my doubting mind, saying:
We are with you, Sarah. We love you. Always.
I'll then I take out the ring I wear around my neck, cradling it in my palm, and through its token of love remember all of the happiness and fun we had together. But I also then remember the horror, the pain, the loss. And the long and terrible grief. So very terrible.
But most of all, I remember the truth.
Eric had come back to me.
He had returned to our world.
He had put the wrong things right.
And I smile.
For I know then that neither of you ever really left me. And thanks to you both I went on to live my life as well as I could live it and can honestly say that I have been, and remain, so very happy. I have a wonderful husband who adores me. I have a loving son who has given me the most beautiful little granddaughter, with a new grandson soon to join her. Yes, it has been perfect. And though I've lived my life for me, I've also lived it for the both of you. The happiness you should have had together, you have had through me.
So, Shelley Webster, Eric Draven, know that I love you both.
The day was fading fast, it's warm, reddish light leaving the world to the mercy of the coming October dark.
The elderly woman crouched slowly down before the two weathered headstones, so close together, almost touching, as if nothing could ever pull them apart. Reaching out, she placed a single white rose against each; two snow-white tokens of love resting against two grey monuments to loss. Carefully, she then raised herself back up, groaning with the effort, feeling so stiff in the bones as the ever advancing years continued to take their inevitable toll.
She came to this place every October 30th without fail.
But every year, for the past few years, it had been getting harder and harder for her to make the long journey. The journey back home. But deep in her heart she knew that for as long as she was able to do so, she would never not come.
"Nana Sarah…look," a small excited voice said from behind her.
Sarah turned and smiled down at her little granddaughter, just six years old, cute tufts of dark blond hair poking out from the hood of her bright red winter coat. The child had slipped from her grandmother's side just as Sarah had crouched down to place the two roses. And the little girl was looking up and to the right now, leaning back from her knees, her right arm outstretched, index finger pointing insistently upwards.
"What is it, Katy?" Sarah asked her.
"A real big bird, Nana Sarah," the little girl said excitedly. "He's watching you."
Sarah's eyes followed the aim of Katy's pointing finger, slowly upwards, towards a long, twisted branch extending from an old knarled tree whose cracked trunk stood only ten feet away from them both.
And there, perched on the end of that long twisted tree branch, as still as a stone gargoyle, rested a large and darkly familiar shape.
Fading sunlight slid over shining black feathers.
A huge, brutal beak pointed directly at her.
"Big birdy!" she heard Katy murmur in such innocent wonder.
Slowly Sarah moved forwards, towards Katy, her eyes never once leaving the crow; it's eyes never once leaving her.
Reaching out, she took Katy's little hand in hers.
She gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"It's okay, Katy, he lives here. He's the night watchman,"she said softly.
"What does he watch?" the little girl asked in a hushed, reverent tone.
Sarah's eyes remained fixed on the unmoving crow.
"He watches over all those who have passed on, darling. The ones we love who are no longer with us."
Sarah addressed the giant crow. "Isn't that right, night watchman?"
The great black bird gave a single loud CAAAW in response. It then stretched out its long glistening oil-black wings and dipped its head as if bowing in acknowledgement.
Sarah had flinched at the sudden noise and movement from the bird. Much to her surprise though, Katy had not. In fact, the little girl had begun to giggle.
"I like him. He's a good birdy," she cooed.
Sarah couldn't resist a chuckle.
She looked down at the little girl next to her.
Katy's face peered up at Nana Sarah from out of her big red hood, a few blond locks framing her happy blue eyes.
"Yes, darling, he is," Sarah agreed, smiling. "But it's time we were going. Mommy and Daddy will be wondering where we've gotten to."
And the grandmother and granddaughter turned and began to walk slowly away, hand in hand, back towards the busy world beyond the peaceful churchyard.
But just as they neared the old rusty metal gate that marked the exit, another loud CAAAW came from behind.
Nana Sarah and little Katy both turned back around.
The night watchman had moved.
He had abandoned his perch in the old tree to stand proudly now atop one of the two grey headstones.
Sarah knew exactly which one. The only one it could have been.
She gave a contented smile.
"I'll see you next year," she whispered to the bird.
Then, looking to Katy, she reached out and brushed the little girl's cheek.
"I have to tell you a story, Katy," she told the child. "It's about two very special people who loved each other so much that nothing could ever keep them apart. He was a handsome musician who loved to write songs and play his guitar. She was a beautiful angel who cared so much for others that she always thought of their needs before her own. And even when things got to be so very bad, and they were parted, and she was hurt…"
"Nana Sarah, does the story have a happy ending?" Katy interrupted, a worried frown attacking her little face. "It has to have a happy ending."
Sarah laughed, diamond tears welling.
All the bright and joyful memories of her time with Shelley and Eric went dancing through her mind now. And along with those memories, that oh so familiar blanket of love began pulling itself tight around her once more. And this time, around little Katy too.
She gave the little girl's hand another gentle squeeze.
"Oh yes, Katy. It does have a happy ending."
She looked back to the headstones and smiled.
"Because, you see, my darling, real love is forever."
For those torn from us.
Nothing is forgotten.
Nothing is ever forgotten.