Jo leaned against the
hallway wall, watching while her mum pinned the life-like drawing of
a raven to her front door beside the picture of Isis, only half
listening to her chatter. She grunted when her mum turned to stare at
her, finished with her task.
“Ravens were always thought of as being creatures of darkness, bringers of death. But that couldn't be further from the truth.”
“No?” Jo asked, uninterested, but she didn't want to hurt her mum's feelings.
“They come in the darkness and clean away the filth left over. Guide those on the cusp from this world to the next. It'll guide you while you go from one life to another...”
“I haven't died.” She didn't mean to sound as abrupt. Her mum gave her a sad smile and cupped her cheek before stepping away to reach for her coat on the hooks she had installed before putting up the raven.
“I like that one,” Jo pointed to Isis. Her mum hummed.
“Well, I thought, what's guidance without wisdom? I'll come by tomorrow with some shopping. I've left you some money so you can order in for tonight.”
“You didn't need to.”
“I did.” Her mother paused by the front door, leaving it half-open, and stared again with watery eyes. Jo swallowed, tears forming in her own. Her mum came back in and wrapped her arms around her for several seconds before returning to the door.
“He's gone. He won't ever come back,” she said. Jo wondered whose benefit that reassurance was for.
“Good night. I'll see you tomorrow.”
The door closed with a thud, rattling the badly fitted light bulb out of its socket. Jo swore as the hallway was plunged into darkness, and groped along the wall, feeling ahead with her feet to avoid the glass. She wished she had taken the time to sort it before it got dark but there had been so much to do with the unpacking and then her mother had stopped by. She had been more upset than Jo, wailing and blaming herself for everything he'd done. It had taken an entire pot of tea to calm her down.
She reached the kitchen and felt around for the light switch, then blinked when yellow glare flooded the room. Her heart skipped a beat after she saw him coming up the hallway from the corner of her eye. Of course he wasn't really there. It was just memories; her mind playing tricks.
She sang to herself while she rutted around the drawers for the light bulbs, tensing as she saw the shadow sweep up behind her. She sang louder, swinging round when it reached her shoulder. Nothing there, again. The words to the song she didn't really like much came in gasps and she leaned on the bench, heart pounding. She grabbed a stool from under the table then pushed the kitchen door open, trying to get as much light as she could out into the hallway. It glinted on the sharp edges of the thin glass which would splinter in her foot all too easily if she were to step on it. She wished she'd thought of putting her shoes on but they were sitting by the front door.
It was the work of a few moments to position the stool and climb up, then grab the hanging light to steady herself while she tried to get the bulb into place. It slipped through her fingers as a banging boomed throughout the flat. She paused, the crack of the bulb when it smashed into the floor lost in the noise that she finally realised was coming from the door.
“Who's that?” she called, to receive another knock in reply. With care, she got down from the stool and stepped around the glass. The drawing of the raven watched her approach.
“It's just someone at the door. Nothing more.”
Telling herself so wasn't as reassuring as singing, but she didn't want to look like some sort of lunatic to whom ever was there. The picture of the raven fluttered when the knocking sounded again, the door handle vibrating in her palm with the force of it. She yanked the door open.
“What's with the....” her voice trailed off. Taking a few steps into the corridor, Jo peered around the corner to the other flats on her floor. There was no one around, the door to the stairwell firmly closed. She shivered. Someone had left the corridor window open. It was the middle of December and though there was no snow yet, it felt as if there would be soon.
“Very mature!” she called over her shoulder, going back inside. She edged round the glass, toward the front room and hit the light switch. The sweeping brush was where Mum had left it, propped against the window right next to where he was peering through.
Jo did a double take, pressing her hand over her heart. There was nothing there. There couldn't be. She was on the second floor.
“Leave me alone!” she called through the glass anyway. It was just like before, when she was only starting to realise that he was about. It had begun with him staring at her through her windows. A few days later she closed the curtains and had left them shut since. The sole reason she had chosen this flat was because she didn't want to have to go through that again.
She shivered. Sinking onto the settee, Jo wrapped her arms around herself, letting out a sob. He was there, at the other end of the long room, leaning against the wall just like the last time she had seen him.
A few moments before the last time she'd seen him.
“I didn't mean to kill you. I just wanted you to go away.”
He didn't answer, didn't move at all. Jo frowned, realising that what she had been looking at was a couple of boxes with a few blankets draped over them.
“Everyone said it was self-defence!” she called, hugging herself tighter. She shuffled around on the couch as a shiver ran down her spine, and pressed her back into the cold leather. It felt marginally safer, but not safe enough. She got up and grasped the broom, holding it like a weapon, and advanced on the hallway. She left the door wide, adding to the light coming from the kitchen.
The glass was swept to the side in a single stroke. Her eyes rested on the picture of the raven, just visible in the dim light. The page fluttered in the breeze coming from under the door. It made it look as though it were flying out of the paper.
“I hear the girl who had this place before me could have used you. She did herself in only a couple of weeks ago. Police think it was a pact with some guy that lived on the ground floor. Do you do suicide cases?”
Did it do mental cases, she wondered to herself, turning away.
“Never again.” The deep, croaky voice sent an electric bolt from her scalp to her toes. Her body stiffened. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, mentally urging herself to run. If only she had a back door to escape. Reluctantly she opened her eyes, to see nothing.
“I'm hearing things now.” And talking to herself, she noted as she began singing again. Strange though, that it should answer her with such clarity.
Leaving the broom propped up next to the glass she had swept into the wall, she jogged back to the front room and threw herself on the settee. Seeing the two ten pound notes her mum had left, Jo picked up the phone and dialled her local pizza place, puzzled when she realised there was no dial tone. It took a moment to remember she wasn't connected yet. She took the money and went back to the hallway, grabbing her coat as she passed it, then stopped when she saw the raven staring at her.
“Think I'll be safe out there on my own? He is gone. They're taking me seriously now. The police said I could call their Victim Support thingy. I'd need a working phone for that, though.”
The gap under her door was too large, letting in the wind blowing through the open corridor windows. The light came through too, disturbed by the shadows of a pair of feet. She paused in the act of reaching for the handle and backed away.
“He's still here. He's still following me. Everywhere I went, there he was and no one ever listened. And he still won't go away and still no one is listening.”
The raven's beak hadn't moved but the deep, cracking voice had come from the door without a doubt. She shook herself off. Whoever was on the other side had obviously spoken. Taking a deep breath, she thrust a hand into her coat pocket and wrapped her fingers around the cold metal knuckles she had taken to carrying, and jerked the door open. It banged off her hallway wall, revealing exactly nothing on the other side.
“You're too easily amused!” she called into the hallway and let the door slam shut. She slid down the wall, her eyes going to the picture of the raven.
“I thought you were supposed to be for guidance.”
There was no more uncertainty. It was the raven who had spoken, as unmoving as it was. A violent shiver went through her.
“You're supposed to guide me 'from one life to another'. You aren't supposed to guide him back from the dead. Didn't Isis tell you that?” she gestured to the picture of Isis.
“Stop it! Stop that! You're just a picture and you can't speak!” She tore the pictures from the door.
“You're just a picture. Nothing more.”
She sank back to the floor, a continuous shudder ran through her, cold tingles going down her spine. He was a little behind and beside her, drool dangling from his leering grin. He wasn't there when she turned to look.
“You can't keep bringing him back,” she said to the picture. It was wrinkled, the corners torn where it had come away from the pins. She picked it up, smoothed it out and reattached it, doing the same with Isis. Kneeling down, she asked,
“Is he really dead? I killed him. There was hardly any blood. Is he burning in hell?”
“Can't you tell me anything useful?” her voice rose again but she kept her tempter in check. “Can't you tell me he's suffering for what he put me through?”
He was running toward her, eyes glinting in the poor light, fingers clawed, his arm stretched out for her. She yelped, throwing herself to the floor. At any moment she'd feel him tearing at her...
The raven did nothing but stare when she pushed herself up. Picture or not, she knew it was watching her.
“Get! Get! You are a creature of death. Guidance! You've brought him back so he can kill me.”
“Is that all? All you have to say? Will I ever be safe again? I know! Never again.” Jo giggled, scrunching herself up when she saw him again, waiting at the end of the hallway, shoulders hunched like they always used to be. She was determined not to fall or hide herself this time, though couldn't help but flinch when he moved toward her. In another instant he was gone and she laughed harder still. He wasn't ever going away and she would always be afraid. The raven returned her stare.
“I'll never be safe. Never again.”