RAVENWARE

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The Great Awakening

I crept up the stairs, then down the hall, toward the screams. When I found the room they were coming from, I drew my butter knife and eased the door open. The walls were plastered with Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes and Earth Wind and Fire posters. A thick, shag rug muffled my footsteps.

“She’s waking up!” I heard Lydia scream. “She doesn’t know where she is! Please!” Lydia had broken her flex cuffs. One of the pretty boys pinned her arms against an overstuffed purple bean bag chair. He was trying to use his free hand his teeth to rip a piece of duct tape off a roll.

“She’ll take control of your weapons,” Lydia gasped. “She’ll bathe this world in fire. She’ll-” I saw Lydia freeze as she clocked me creeping up from behind, wielding the butter knife like Michael Myers with a meat cleaver. Rather than seizing his chance, the pretty boy froze too.

“What?” he said, suspiciously.

“Nothin’,” Lydia said.

I swung the butter knife at his jugular to end it in one blow. Unfortunately, since I was aiming with one eye and no depth perception, I missed entirely and lightly scraped his face. The man spun around, slapping his hand against his cheek.

“Jesus,” he sputtered. Lydia kicked him in the side of the head and he fell off the overstuffed bean bag, his side arm plopping onto the shag rug. I snatched it up and lined up a shot.

“Sorry,” I said, meaning it.

I blew his fucking head off. At that range, depth perception doesn’t really matter, so the one-eye thing was null.

I stuffed the gun into my waistband.

“Let’s go,” I said. Lydia stood shakily.

“It’s too late,” she said. I grabbed her by the wrist. We ran down the hall, down the steps. With every step I expected half a dozen paramilitary troops to pop around a corner and swiss-cheese us. As we flew out the front door we heard screaming from the ballroom. I distinctly heard the Shaved Man shout: “I’m a good man! Please!” This was followed by a grinding, gurgling sound that I can still remember vividly. I imagine it's the sound an occtopus would make you ran it through a circular saw and also if it had a soul and could scream.

We ran down the front steps and from the corner of my eye I saw the four plainclothes who had been smoking outside running right at us. I figured we were done for, but they ran past us, up the steps, into the estate.

“Keep going!” I hissed. We made for the SUVs. Behind us, I heard a clank. I twisted my head to see the tank lurching to life, its caterpillar tires rolling across the tennis court. Its canon was aimed at the estate.

I clapped my hands over Lydia’s ears just in time. A shell disappeared into the western wing. In the same instant, splinters of wood and glass mixed with chunks of marble, flesh and bone burst like a bloody flower out of its eastern wing. The ground floor disintegrated, the second floor collapsed, and in seconds the whole complex was engulfed in fire.

We reached the SUVs. I tore the driver’s side door open and scrambled inside. No key, but I jammed my butter knife into the ignition and twisted until the engine roared to life. I looked to the passenger’s seat for Lydia, but she wasn’t there. Through the front windshield I saw her, staring at the inferno.

“Lydia, let’s go!” I shouted. She didn’t move. Her dress and her jacket fluttered from the backdraft blasting off of the fire. She looked over her shoulder.

“She won’t stop here,” Lydia said. “Look.” The surveillance drones ascended from the inferno, shedding ash and sparks, buzzing like insects, followed by a dozen black birds, shaking embers from their wings.

“Lydia, get in the fucking car!” I screamed. “Let’s go!”

“You go,” Lydia said.

Her limbs twisted into unnatural angles again. The tank trained its canon on us. Lydia’s back arched and as her head bent back towards me, I saw her eyes turn pure white.

The tank fired. It all happened too fast for me to really know what I saw, but the shell didn’t hit us. I felt a wave of heat as it sailed past.

“Go!” Lydia screamed. I wish I could say I hesitated. Or looked back.

I threw the SUV in reverse and did the fastest Y-turn in history and thundered down that gravel path in under a minute. Then I peeled out onto the dirt road as the thundering of the tank and the crackle of automatic weapons roared behind me.

I drove as fast as I could until I found the highway, then drove as fast as I could on the highway until the local cops pulled me over. As they walked up to the side of the car to give me the standard “do you know how fast you were going” speech, I threw myself onto the pavement and begged to be taken to the U.S. embassy.

Instead, they took me to an Italian police station. There was talk of taking me to a mental hospital. I wasn’t entirely against the idea. As I explained what had happened in broken Spanish, even I wondered if I was insane. They called a Spanish-speaking detective on his day off to come and continue the interview.

I sat wrapped in a blanket by the desk of the beat cop who had picked me up. Around me, police officers went about their business, working on their computers, taking phone calls, occasionally processing someone for robbery or disorderly conduct.

When the detective got there, we tried to talk for a few minutes in Spanish before we figured out that he grew up in New Jersey and spoke fluent English. After that, all I had to do was mention the incident at the airport and they knew I was for real. Apparently Interpol and every intelligence service in the northern hemisphere was out looking for us.

“Stay put a few minutes,” the detective said. He had a mop of salt-and-pepper hair and a moustache-and-gut-combo that reminded me, comfortingly, of Mario.

“We’ll get somebody from your embassy over here right away. But for now, take a deep breath. You’re safe. You want a hot chocolate?” That question sort of caught me off guard. It was a hot night in southern Italy. Seeming to register my confusion, he added:

“The hot chocolate in this area is very famous. You should try it while you’re here. Plus, there’s nothing as relaxing as hot chocolate. And you’ve had a long day.”

That was a good point.

“That would be great,” I muttered. “Could you make it with almond milk?”

The detective went to get my hot chocolate and make his phone calls and I hugged myself with the blanket, feeling numb. I tried to remember the last moment I had seen Lydia. Had she still been herself? Had she still been fighting? I wasn't even sure if I had seen her die.

There was a clicking sound, followed by the sigh of a dozen electronic devices powering down at once. Then came that moment of adjusting to silence after white noise dissappears.

“What’s going on?” I heard people ask in Italian. “Where’s our power?” Then, even they were quiet. There was a chill and I saw my breath. I looked around the office. Ravens pecked at desks that had been abandoned for god knows how long. I stood frozen in disbelief. Outside was a half light, like dawn. Cold wind seeped through broken windows.

“You should have left me to sleep girl,” said a voice. I turned. A woman was standing in the corner, in the shadows. She stepped into the silver light from the window, revealing porcelain flesh and ink-dark hair. She wore an elegant black dress. I stepped back, bumping immediately into a desk. Rats scurried out from underneath.

“You should have left me what I had. Now I needto seek a new domain. You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t swallow. I realized I couldn’t speak. My tongue was useless. My lips were hard, incapable of articulation.

“No need for that any longer,” she said. “Not while you serve me.” She raised her hand toward me and began to speak aramaic.

“Hold up.”

My head snapped to the side. There was Lydia, standing at my side, hands in her pockets.

“No,” the woman said. “No. You are a novice. You can not stand against me!” The woman reached both hands out toward Lydia, clawing at the air, chanting furiously. The wind picked up, turning the last of the glass clinging to the frames of the windows to dust. Lydia stood motionless.

“Heard that one,” Lydia muttered. The cadence of the woman’s chanting changed. Lydia rolled her eyes. “I already countered that. Plus it works better in old Gaelic. Listen, I told you, this is already over. Coming after my friend really is a pathetic last ditch. Are you almost done?”

The woman let her arms fall.

“You insolent... Peasant… Slav!” she screamed. She charged Lydia, all her grace and confidence forgotten, knocking aside desk chairs and wastebaskets as she ran.

“Yep,” Lydia sighed. “That’s how you know it’s really over.”

Lydia turned to me and flashed that ugly smile, full of trust. And for a second, she was that girl on the roof again. Lydia. Lydia whose mom was never home. Lydia who was always down to watch movies and order pizza. Lydia with her weird internet challenges and spellbooks. My weirdest, best friend.

“Lydia,” I said. The woman was almost upon us. Lydia turned back to her, crossed her arms and said:

“Let the unclean crawl beneath the ground.”

I blinked. The windows were fixed. The Italian cops were back. The lights flickered to life. Everyone was back to taking calls and answering emails.

Detective Mario rounded the corner with two mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows. He found me leaning against the desk of another cop who politely continued to work, pretending not to notice the weird breakdown I was having. The detective gave me my mug.

“Sorry about the delay,” he said. “Power went out while I tried to call the embassy the first time. They’re on their way now.” I stared down at my cocoa (it had little marshmallows) and looked up at the detective.

“Everything O.K.?” he asked.

“She beat her,” I said, with what must have been a positively insane grin.

“Who?” he asked.

“Lydia beat the witch!” I screamed, so loud that the entire office stopped cold to stare at me. Darkness closed in on both sides. As I passed out, I shed my blanket and dumped my cocoa directly onto the personal MacBook Pro belonging to the head of the organized crime unit, bricking it instantly. My head hit the carpet with a thud.

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