“Caw, caw!” The raven screeched.
Mary grimaced. That stupid bird had been squawking for the better part of an hour. She looked at the time. 12:34. Time to check on Faith again.
Mary strolled out of the kitchen, still draped in an uncomfortable apron . She peeked around the corner.
The little girl was sitting on the couch, contentedly munching on an apple. The couch sat at an angle to the wall, so that Mary could see her daughter’s face. Right then it was buried in a notebook, as always. Faith had been drawing since she was four. Now six, the habit had consumed her: Half of the summer was already gone.
The raven continued to scream in its unsettling manner. Faith's brow scrunched up in disgust. How was she ever going to concentrate with all of that blasted noise? She had never faced a such a challenge in her drawing career.
She had begun to draw when she stumbled upon a discarded box of crayons. All the various colors had enraptured her; she drew on anything that stood still. Walls, floors, furniture, nothing was sacred. Very few people in the history of the world spent more on cleaning supplies than her poor mother. Soon--after getting bored of fragile crayons--she discovered the beautiful simplicity of the pencil, with its versatile (yet somehow also one-dimensional) writing style. All worn down to the eraser, she went through at least four a day.
And so she studied the raven: collecting and categorizing data. Her mother—following her gaze, joined her. Faith saw the black, (almost) perfectly pointed beak, the tiny gaps between small, overlapping feathers; the way the beady eyes almost seemed to look everywhere and nowhere, all at once. Mary failed to notice anything interesting. She had always been rather unimaginative.
The raven stopped shrieking. Then, almost purposefully, it turned its head and locked eyes with Faith. It c***ed its head, as if asking her a question. Mary started, surprised by the sheer force in the bird’s eyes. She tore her glance away and worriedly checked her daughter. If the raven’s eyes had been forceful, her eyes were even more so; fire seemed to spill out in tiny rivulets from her piercing blue spheres.
“No.” Faith quietly said, almost inaudibly.
The foul creature glared at Faith for a long moment. Mary held her breath. The late summer trees danced in the wind serenely. All was still.
With a swish of its tail and a flourish of wings, the bird took flight, but not before giving Faith one last look. Faith stared at the fence for a long time. She shook her head. Foolishness! With purpose, she began to draw. Long sweeping lines graced the page, forming the backbones of scenery; her pencil forming grass and dirt. Slowly, as she drew, they diminished in size for more accuracy. Precision, precision, precision. The sun danced lower and lower in the sky, until finally disappearing completely. And still she drew, the marks now less than half an centimeter thick. She was obsessed. She became completely and utterly enveloped in talent and focus. Finally, she had found her rhythm: Draw, erase. Draw smaller, erase less. Draw even tinier, stop. Mary watched from afar, entranced. She too lost track of the time for many hours; it was nearly midnight before her head cleared. Urgently Mary walked towards Faith, who noticed her coming and stopped working.
“How are you doing, my little muffin?” Mary inquired, playing with her hair.
She didn’t answer, not wanting to lose focus.
“C’mon, Faith, talk to your mommy.”
Faith put her pencil down and looked up. “I’m drawing a bird, mommy.”
“Oh really, let me see!” She reached over and plucked the notebook out of her hands. “I wish I could draw like you. I’ve always dreamed of being an artist. Did you know that?”
Faith shook her head.
“Um-hm. It’s true. It was almost my major. Oh, you don’t know what a major is.”
Yes I do, she thought.
“I miss college. So much easier to forget about life…” she trailed off. Her eyes had gone glassy. “What were we doing?” she asked.
Faith nodded towards the notebook in her hands.
“Right. Well, let's see what you drew, Roger. Er, Faith.”
Mary's mind wandered. She was confused--her lips were pursed—and while her eyes wandered up and down the page, her mind was too preoccupied to notice anything. She snuck a quick glance at Faith, who stared at her silently. Memories of what the doctor said came flooding back.
“I'm going to be frank, Mrs….”A hidden glimpse of his notebook, “Leary. Your daughter is suffering from shock, and it's quite severe. I've never seen a case this bad. Do you know of any trauma that could've caused this?”
“Please, call me Mary. It's a long story.” She spoke dismissively. Her hands appeared to be waving the subject away. “I married the wrong man, and my daughter suffered for it.”
“She was abused?”
“Not physically, no. But my husband Roger isn't—wasn't-- a kind man. He would frequently yell and scream at us.”
“Ah.” Again the notebook was whipped out, this time with a pen. “I assume he's no longer in the picture?”
She shook her head. “His drinking finally caught up to him, the bastard. He got t-boned running a red.”
Scribbling. “Well, with time—as long as no other trauma occurs—the shock should fade. Come back if she isn't getting better.”
“Roger will be so happy to hear that.” Mary smiled.
“I thought you just said--“
“Oops! I'm sorry. I haven't been getting enough sleep.” She shook her head. “He's dead, don’t you worry, doc. He's not—” hesitation. “--Here anymore.”
That was two weeks ago. And Faith still refused to do anything but draw, rarely stopping to eat or sleep. Everything else seemed inconsequential to Faith; drawing was her universe. Mary had thought of taking her pencils, but she didn’t want to do any more damage. She silently cursed her dead husband. At 30 with a child, her chances of finding another man were slim. And Roger had been so handsome, so strong…If Faith had never been born…No! Admonishing herself, she refused to blame Faith. It wasn’t her fault.
Mary looked over the drawing with renewed determination. She was not going to be a bad mom. Look at what had happened to Roger: She would not fail her daughter too.
The sketch was elegant in its simplicity. A beautifully drawn raven was perched on the ground, surrounded by white daisies. Somehow, the daisies were thick and strong, despite the stark, snow-covered, winter background.
“I love these daisies, Faith! They're so pretty!”
Faith quietly answered, “They're not daisies, mommy.”
“Oh?” Mary looked it over again--this time more deliberately. As her examination progressed, a feeling of blindness overtook her; she simply could not see anything but daisies.
Faith flipped a switch in Mary’s mind.
Slowly and steadily, the pretty, fluffy daisies coalesced into something harder. The pure white leeched away. It was replaced by an uglier shade of white, the kind that evokes nausea. The dark background only served to highlight the bleakness. Clumps of “daisies” became thinner and thinner, almost as thin as a reed. Some formed entirely new shapes, completely forgoing the basic plant structure. Spheres, rods, and a cacophony of many other shapes lay on the ground. Bones!
Mary gasped. They were bones! Fresh, decaying bones! To her horror, the bird began to shift position. The ephemeral ink dripped across the paper unsteadily. One beady little eye stared straight through her as it started to devour the bones, the beak making unspeakable crunching noises in her head. A shadow covered the page.
She whirled around. Red eyes glowed at her. Mary screamed. The demon laughed, reeling its head back to unleash an unearthly howl. Mary kicked it with all of her strength. It flew across the room, hitting the back wall with a thump.
She had to run, get away!
Staggering, she moved towards the kitchen. Everything in her body screamed at her: The kitchen is safe, the kitchen is safe. Footsteps were following her, pat pat pat. She saw red in the corner of her eyes. She tried to run faster, but stumbled; was there a ball and chain attached to her leg? Finally, her bare feet touched tile. Relief, however, was nowhere to be found. New orders came: Knife, I need a knife! Mary dove for the drawer, and scrambled for balance. By the time she righted herself, a glint of steel shone from her hand. A laugh echoed in her head, mocking the pathetic weapon. With a sense of doom, Mary slowly turned to face the source of the laughter. The cries left her head and became real. Before her stood the devil, cackling with joy. She raised the knife in self defense.
“What do you want? Leave me alone!” Mary barely sobbed out. She could hardly see through the tears.
The little devil (not over 4 feet) didn’t say anything aloud, but in Mary’s mind came a response:
The blade is pointing the wrong way.
Against her volition, Mary's hands flipped the knife around. It was now directly pointed at her heart. A cry of surprise escaped her lips.
That’s better, but it's still not close enough.
Her hands were moving again; this time towards her chest. “Please, Faith, why are you doing this? Where did I go wrong?”
Her eyes glossed over, and the knife stopped its death march. “Roger? Is that you? Oh, I've missed you!”
Roger hugged her. He was very handsome, wearing a tuxedo. “I'm back, Mary. I'll never leave you again.”
Her guard was down, and she stopped struggling. The demon easily broke her will. Just a few twists were needed, as the brain bent. Alas, so did the knife when it tore through the rib cage, piercing the heart. She didn’t even move, except for her hands. Love can feel very safe, and Mary was full of it. Roger’s embrace was all she felt, even as she bled out, even as she ran herself through. Within moments, Satan towered over Mary’s fallen corpse. Her eyes were still longing for her beloved Roger. It was easy to carry her outside through the back door, where a flock of ravens lay waiting. Greedily they devoured the body, until only bones remained. Fire could not have done it cleaner; not a scrap of flesh clung to the bones. They flew away satisfied. Satan watched the whole time, savoring every minute. Like the birds, he too left, also satisfied.
Two weeks later, Mary (or what was left of her) was found by Miss Mullins, a concerned neighbor who nearly fainted when she saw the bones. At the ripe old age of 94, it was a miracle she didn’t collapse of shock. The police were there within minutes.
Sheriff Harvey and his force quickly determined that it was suicide, but protocol required an investigation. It seemed unnecessary. There were no fingerprints on the handle but her own, and the entry wound was clearly self inflicted. He hated this part of the job, the crime scenes. He hated knowing that if they had only gotten here earlier, people wouldn’t be dead. He especially hated quizzing people like Miss Mullins. She didn’t deserve to get wrapped up in such nasty affairs. No one did.
“I'm sorry for this, ma'am, but duty demands that I question you.” The sheriff plopped down into a chair.
“Oh, I know how it is,” she assured him, patting him on the arm, “I had a brother in the force.”
Harvey cleared his throat, “Did Ms. Leary show any signs of being suicidal?”
“Goodness, no. But apparently she was.”
“Did she show signs of distress?”
“No more then she ought’ve. Her husband’s death caused a lot of stress, the poor thing.” She stopped, thinking it over. “Although, she had been acting strange.”
“Well, this is going to sound silly, but she didn’t look free.”
“After her worthless excuse for a husband died, she should've been elated--ecstatic even. But, it was almost like he was still around, like nothing had changed. I'd dare say that if I hadn’t known he was dead, I never would've guessed she was a widow. And there were other things, too. She had never been much of a busy-body, but after he kicked the bucket she rarely left the house. Even when she did leave, she would never come back with anything except drawing supplies and food. It was almost like Roger never really left…”
“He must've been quite the character to have a hold like that on her.”
She sighed loudly, “You don’t know the half of it. I have no idea why she ever married him. That man was terrible, simply terrible in every sense of the word. Every time I tried to talk with her, he would always start roaring at her to come back inside. And she never would resist, never a word of complaint. She always immediately went back. He didn’t deserve her. Good riddance, that’s what I say.”
“Alright, I only have one last question, and you're free to go. Did she have any children?”
The old woman laughed. “Didn’t you hear me? He couldn’t stand her! Pardon my language, but he’d rather chop his damn arm off! He got plenty of action with other women, sometimes while she was still home. Poor Mary was practically his slave.”
Harvey paused. He took a deep, long look at her. “Are you sure?”
“Why, of course. Why do you ask?”
Sheriff Harvey leaned forward. He looked old Miss Mullins straight in the eye, “There were multiple toys found. Crayons, Legos, children’s books. Kid food like graham crackers and apple juice were in the fridge. There were even books on how to raise toddlers. Also,” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny black sketchbook, obviously meant for little hands. “We found this.”
Miss Mullins shook her head slowly. “I swear by all that is holy, Sheriff, that woman never had any children. Roger avoided her touch like the plague.”
The tired sheriff leaned back in his chair. He idly tapped his pencil against the desk, “Well, those are all of the questions I have, Miss Mullins. If you can think of anything else—anything at all--please let us know.”
“I will, Sheriff. Tell your wife I said hi.”
The department shut down the investigation a few days later, on the grounds of it being a simple textbook suicide. Harvey personally closed it himself. And yet, he never turned in the notebook as evidence. He knew it was illegal, but he liked the little thing. It spoke to him, somehow. It made him feel safe.
The rest of his day went by normally. On returning home, he threw the notebook on the couch. He eagerly got undressed and ready for bed, ready to have a nice, relaxing evening. As he slept that night, in the safety of the covers, something dark was stirring. The notebook flipped open to the drawing of the raven.
Its eyes glowed red.
Pushing Up Daisies
“Caw, caw!” The raven screeched.