Illuminations IV, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 1844
His wife lay in her bed in the next room, dying of tuberculosis. Edgar sat at his writing desk, staring at a blank piece of parchment. The winter of the year before had been a dreary one, but this one was shaping up to be far worse. To say that the hand holding the glass of Old Crow Reserve moved more than the hand holding the pen would have been a drastic understatement.
Tired of watching the page in front of him grow more blank with every second, he looked out the window beyond his desk and into the snowy night. The falling snowflakes reflected the light from his lamp so brilliantly, he was in awe of their contrast with the darkness outside. The longer he looked, the more the snowflakes disappeared and within the dark, he saw a deeper black—a figure standing on the street corner next to his house. Perhaps it was just his fermented imagination.
“It’s midnight. What could anyone be waiting for at this hour?” Edgar wondered. “In the snow, as well.”
Thinking maybe the person needed help, he grabbed his hat and cloak off the rack by the door, put them on and braved the cold and wet to go see who the stranger was and if they needed help. And if, by doing so, he received a spark of inspiration, he would not utter a single complaint.
As he approached the shadowy figure, he saw that he wore a robe, the hood pulled over his head. “Excuse me, sir. Are you waiting for someone?”
“I wait... nevermore,” the man said without lifting his head to see who had asked.
“Are you in need of help? I will do what I can.”
“Would you like to come inside and warm yourself a bit? Perhaps a drink? Whatever’s troubling you, I’m certain, will not seem so troubling once you’ve had a strong elixir.”
To this, the man did not answer. Edgar moved closer and put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Sir?”
“Cognac. A glass of cognac would be lovely.”
“God, no. If someone were to give me a bottle of cognac as a gift, I would boot them out into the cold. Dreadful, that stuff. Now, whiskey… there’s a drink.”
“I wonder, Mr. Poe, if you’ve ever searched for something so long that you’ve forgotten what you’d been searching for. So long forgotten, yet, still you long for it. Like a flower in the desert waiting for the rain, but it will be satisfied with the urine from a cow who does not care whether it kills the flower or not.”
“When you first asked it, I thought I had, but now that I have the true picture of your sorrow, I do not know that I have. Did you say my name? I did not say it. Do we know each other?”
“I know you, Mr. Poe, though, you do not know me.”
“Well, what is your name, since you know me, and why are you here, exactly? At midnight?”
“My name is not important. The reason I am here… is to give you something.”
“Give me something? What is it?”
“Write something for me, Mr. Poe.”
“It has been quite some time since I’ve written a commissioned piece. Can you stop by in the morning so we can work out the details when I have a clearer head?”
“No. I will not be stopping by. Mind your lamp, Mr. Poe.” The shadow that was the stranger’s face pointed to the window in front of Edgar’s desk, where the light from his lamp began to grow dim. Edgar looked and by the time he turned back, the man was gone and in his place on the ground was a large, black bird—a raven. The bird cawed loudly and flew to the top of a nearby building. It cawed again and then flew off into the night.
Edgar stood there for a moment, wondering if he had been talking to anyone at all or if it was just the whiskey making him dream standing up. He was about to turn around and go inside when something caught his eye. The failing light from the lamp hit the ground just right so that he could see plain as day, there, in the snow, slowly disappearing, both bird footprints and shoeprints that were not his. Bewildered, he walked inside and hung his hat and cloak on the rack. As he shuffled back to his desk, he heard a word. A whisper in the back of his mind and a scream in his ear at the same time.
He sat down, took the pen in his hand and let that dark, shadowy figure fly from the street, through the window, and straight onto the blank piece of parchment. The bird, the hooded stranger and the writer. All three live forever on the page.