Following yet another failed night of forced unrest, I leave the comforts of my sheets, ready or not to face the day. The greyness of life begins its attack on my sensations before I open the window upon skies curtained with leaden clouds and streaked streams of rainfall. What glorious reinforcements of my disillusionment with the dull lethargy of this routine.
After a bland breakfast, I spruce myself up to accommodate the bare visual demands of any decent desk job. As public transport takes me to the place where I earn the financial fuel required to sustain my Sisyphean support of a Kafkaesque cage, I feel watched, though I dismiss the anomaly as a trivial phenomenon of urban habitation, a less than unorthodox symptom of a life that surrounds the perpetuation of duties and chores for their own sake.
Greetings are amiss at the reception, like any attention from my cubicle neighbours. Integrity trumps fake politeness, anyway. As I sit, a black flash washes over the office space for a fleeting moment. I jerk my head to the window, though my sight falls on nothing out of the ordinary, nothing but that depressing thirteenth-floor skyline behind a decrepit grain silo.
Lunch break, sitting in my spot, recharging with the cheapest ramen from the market. A coworker is using the coffee brewer across the room. As he sips from his mug, the bloom radiating from him briefly brightens the desaturated ambience. While I am curious to learn whether he has wits to match, we have yet to exceed sporadic exchanges. Should I speak up? I’ve been staring for too long. Is he smiling? Friendly. Feigned? Whatever, I return the smile, not in mockery, but in what I hope to be read as positive sympathy. Okay, I’ll get up and-
Out of the blue, a poorly acquainted colleague asks me to take over his Saturday shift. Sure, why not? The whole week will be appropriately muted in colour. I return my gaze to-
Gone, he is. Just my luck. Well, four more hours of human exploitation to go.
My afternoon ordeal is paused by a sharp sting of anguish. The headache soon stops, allowing me to clock out and leave the restricting arena of the endless game for the bus, where I sit between reflections and shadows. Are their lives more fulfilling? I like to pretend.
Back home, I make use of my scarce culinary skills for a final burst of nutrition, before I take care of my basic hygienic needs and engage a new attempt at rest and relaxation.
I wake up from… what, exactly? Another night of no recovery, my mind accustomed to the insomnia, my body accommodated to remaining fatigue. I throw a glance out, the sad excuse for weather unchanged, save for a raven, seated on a branch of the tree near a window. It observes me with a striking expression of curiosity; intriguing a break in my daily circles. I play with the palpable idea of staying in bed for today. However, my rationale prevails.
Eat breakfast, go to work, have lunch, clock out. My actions have become automated, my mind is on autopilot, guiding be back to my doorway in the frigid mists of autumn.
‘You seem lost, my friend. May I help you?’
My trance of apathy broken, I swerve around to locate the inexplicably familiar voice, only to find nothing on eye level. The vapor out of my mouth blocks everything underneath.
‘Ordinarily, I dislike people looking down on me, but I must request this incivility.’
I lower my eyes to a bird on the cobblestone; the same specimen from my window? Its eyes meet mine in a way no animal should, satiated with the implication of sapience.
‘You are… a raven,’ I mutter to the creature looking up at me.
‘Perceptive.’ Its haughty tone and delicate pronunciation make it sound sophisticated. In a humorously human curtsy, its wings act as both arms and a robe.
‘A… talking raven?’ I stress, pleading insanity in my inner court.
‘And that is so strange for you, my friend?’ it wonders, inquisitively tilting its head.
‘Well… I’ve never heard of talking ravens before.’
‘So absence refutes their existence?’ The beak moves alternates habitually between two frames, open and closed, but the perfectly formed words somehow seem utterly normal. ‘Every cosmos transcends human’s capability of comprehension. In a hardly distant future, one will travel to stars as fast as you to commute. I assert a talking raven will seem trivial.’
‘Put into that perspective-’ I admit, speaking as I would with a person, then stumble. ‘Wait, how do you know how long it takes me to go to work?’
‘I happen to see you sometimes.’ The bird extends defensively placating extremities. ‘Ravens have a lot of time on their hands…’ It regards its feathery arms. ‘…or wings.’
‘Okay, granted.’ I shrug, reckoning that nothing on earth should faze me anymore.
‘Besides, we famously fly in pairs, yet my better half has yet to fill a gap in the stars.’
‘This is not real, right? You are saying what I want you to say, as I need a diversion.’
‘Then what are you doing here? Back to your safe harbour, where the storms and tidal waves of this terrible sea will bother you no more! If I am but a figment of your imagination, a product of your creative consciousness, go rest well and conjure me at a better time.’
‘Good call. I’m clearly overtired. And likely insane. So, you know, see you around.’
Said to a raven, a poetic philosopher in the form of a darkly feathered animal. At least now I have an excuse to take a break from work. I have lost the last traces of my already fragile mind and now I need get cured, meaning that some change may finally come about. The head leans to the other side as the right wing rises for a comical military salute.
Nonsense. Of course, I pursue the only path at my meagre disposal. But did those few minutes at the doorstep earlier today really happen? Was it really- No, just ignore it.
While watching TV with my plate of zero-effort dinner, my head tunes out the news. I talked to a damn animal, denial begone. A glance out through the glass shows empty night. Well, time to enter the realm of cushions and sheets for another chance at needed recreation.
The struggle to visit Morpheus and leave him in one session has never been greater. This time, I feel a lighter sort of fatigue, as if in simultaneous deprivation and rejuvenation, defying logic and rationality. Of course, a raven is sitting on his throne of wood and leaves at my window, awaiting my waking. The bird flies away right after I notice it, as if just ensuring I would open my eyes. The daily grind resumes its course until I return to my comfort zone. Yet I notice the tree’s occupant before reaching the door, having expected it on instinct.
‘How was your day, friend?’ the affably smug voice tunes from below.
‘Same, same,’ I mutter, hardly deigning the amiable avian a look. ‘Not a spectacle.’
‘Does not strike me as particularly intriguing,’ the raven reckons, head tilted aside. ‘Do what you enjoy. Read a book. Watch a movie. Work out. Improve your health plan. Even better, call up a friend or four. Why not go for a drink? Or take a road trip?’
‘Stop patronizing me,’ I all but yell in my ire, forged under the weight of isolation.
‘Forgive me for egging you on a bit. But sometimes, all it takes is a little push.’
‘That’s the point: Why push? There’s no prescribed purpose or sense or meaning.’
‘So why not just see the beauty in a senseless universe, full of smoke and mirrors?’ The raven leaps in jovial frivolity. ‘You were given free will. You are the king of your world. This reign of yours is a matter of cosmic curiosity to me, but I will not dictate your highness.’
‘I mean, I wish I had wings like yours, so they could carry to other worlds, but well.’
‘A wish can be a wonder,’ the raven sings. ‘Or just smoke and mirrors?’
‘Well, I’ll walk inside along the Yellow Brick Road and sleep over this magic show.’
‘May you enjoy a night of peace and quiet, friend!’ A wave of wings. ‘Until soon.’
Instead of contemplating the overly lively creation of my cerebellum at my doorstep, I cook dinner, all without a single troubling thought plaguing my mind. I eat in the same calm and careless state. And I go to bed with an inner peace that I have not felt in a long time.
Darkness surrounds me. I see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing. Then there blows a breeze of change. The night takes shape, the void making way for tangible forms I can see, for whispering winds I can hear, for the sensation of solid soil beneath the soles of my feet. As perceivable surroundings gradually manifest, the familiarity I feel grows so comfortable that it strangely mirrors a home. Eventually, I stand on firm ground, see the hills and the sky, smell the serene rush of winds. Such a vivid dream, so clear and sound and true on my skin…
‘Hello, friend. Pleasure to see you again.’
I turn and face… an upright person. Man or woman, I cannot say, but it is familiar.
‘Where am I?’
‘Why, in a dream. Or am I in the wrong? Is it not always smoke and mirrors, after all? You know the truth. In a world as real as the dreams from which you wake morn after morn, a world where every moment alive feels like death, tell me the value of the difference.’
‘So, this is it.’
‘I regret to be the unfortunate messenger. Brain aneurysm. Happens to the healthiest, they say. Yet you were anything but healthy, living like a dead man, only now your body has finally followed. A lack of will, corroborated by physical and mental pressure, is a potentially lethal mixture, as sadly demonstrated in your case. You would be amazed how few mourn their own death, after a bleak, dry life. How about you? You hardly seemed happy.’
‘Well, not right then, but I would definitely go on!’
‘That is precisely the point, my wise friend. The abstract oddity that you call life must cycle between day and night, night and day, for how could you appreciate light without dark? Who could learn from the fear of the night without the rewarding warmth of a caressing sun? This game is all about cherishing and learning, my friend. Never give up and keep pushing. No matter how much you might disagree, you are no more a failure than I am a raven.’
‘What are you, then? Certainly not merely a product of my own lost mind?’
‘I know many things, my friend. Thus, to lie would be a waste of precious wisdom: While I indeed am a segment of your subconscious, I also belong to the greater cosmic skies. I am a central necessity in the existence of every living thing in past and present and future, like every coin has a flipside, every track has its end. And I have been waiting for you there, because ravens always fly in pairs, never long alone. You, too, know me: I am your friend.’
‘I understand now.’
‘It is important that you do. Only then may you accept. I see that I am done here.’
‘What happens next?’
Suddenly, the vista blows open like a canvas, the rapture taking its inhabitant along, revealing an open sky – one full of trustworthy shadows, afloat in vigil of the world below. And every person I see on the streets below is guided by their own midnight guardian.
‘Why, you fly with another lost soul. And when you are done, we will meet again.’
So, see you at the end of the line, my feathery friend.
About the author
Mario Marcinko started writing during his master’s program in English Literature. Two short stories were accepted by Tint Journal, an Austrian online magazine for ESL authors: a Lovecraftian period piece and a homage to Dostoyevsky. He explores psychology and philosophy with his sentimental portrayals of character-driven arcs.
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