THE CROW

DARK ANGEL

A story by

RYAN CORVEN

 

Adapted from the comic book series by J. O'Barr
The Crow is copyright ©Pressman Films, Inc.

Dedicated to

BRANDON BRUCE LEE
1965-1993

And

OWEN JAMES HART
1965-1999

CONTENTS

PAIN

Chapter One.  REMEMBERANCE
Chapter Two.  THE FLOCK
Chapter Three.  THE DARK ANGEL ARISES

FEAR

Chapter Four.  INFORMATION
Chapter Five.  BAD MEMORIES
Chapter Six.  WHITE HEAT

IRONY

Chapter Seven.  CHEMICALS
Chapter Eight.  DEAD SOULS
Chapter Nine.  TWISTED SADNESS

DESPAIR

Chapter Ten.  WATCHING FOREVER
Chapter Eleven.  IMMOLATION
Chapter Twelve.  HEAD TRAUMA

DEATH

Chapter Thirteen.  THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION: THREE YEARS AGO
Chapter Fourteen.  REVENGE
Chapter Fifteen.  PASSOVER

 

The Crow

DARK ANGEL

PART ONE
PAIN

THREE YEARS AGO ... A COLD OCTOBER NIGHT...
A SMALL ROOM ABOVE A SCHOOL CANTEEN...
THREE GIRLS ... THREE BOYS ... MADNESS ... PAIN ... AND THE SHADOWS...
MY GOD, THE SHADOWS...

 

Chapter One

-Remembrance-

"People once believed that when someone dies a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul canít rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back - to put the wrong things right."

-Sarah, ĎThe Crowí

* * * * *

We used to hang out in the TV room above the school canteen two or three nights a week, crowded around the polished pine tables and sitting on polished pine chairs; playing various card games, eating various foods, drinking various Ďadultí beverages, listening to countless CDs, watching videos, or television programmes, on the battered old set, playing the guitar, or just chatting idly about anything that happened to be topical at the time (ironically, the topic on that night was The Flock).

Those times are gone now, as are most of the tables and chairs. The TV set remains, though it is no longer capable of performing any of its basic, primary functions. Every single object left in the room holds many memories from the time before, many links to the past: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, emotions; all locked away within the very fabric of each one. Each object is a time capsule, patiently waiting for the arrival of someone with the power to release the secrets.

Food of all types - healthy, fatty, savoury, greasy, sweet, sour, spicy - has been consumed on the tables; games of poker (sometimes it would be strip poker), pontoon, hearts, and gin rummy won and lost by a single card upon the smooth wooden surfaces.

Young couples used to make out in the chairs, uncomfortable yet excited at the thought that anybody could come up the stairs, open the door and see them there, hunched in the chairs (or spread on the tables) and really enjoying each other's company.

There have been fights here, too. No room would be complete without the odd spot of physical violence; a dent in the wall here, a crack in the window there, a spot of blood on the carpet - left behind on the flesh of the room like old scars.

Like the scars left behind from the events of that night.

Like the rest of the school, and the town, the TV room is now little more than a devilish mutation of its former self. It is now a scene that seems to have come straight from the sick, twisted mind of the most doom-and-gloom-orientated Gothic-destruction fan.

A hard, bitter, relentless spray of fine rain pours through the shattered glass windows, soaking the mish-mash of paper into the rotting carpet. Several of the remaining tables and chairs rest at peculiar angles where legs and support struts have broken or vanished completely.

Burnt-out ĎEnergySaveí brand lightbulbs ("Twenty percent more efficient!" the company who made them liked to boast) are still attached to their fittings, a grimy black film lining the inside of each glass dome. Broken models and posters advertising expensive Hollywood movies and famous TV personalities hang from their broken display cases like spilled intestines. The television set still sits in its corner, still plugged into the wall socket, and still waiting unceasingly for a repair job that will never come.

Rising damp stains the walls, and a strange organic smell emanates from an unknown source, adding to the already eerie atmosphere.

To complete the scene, thunder rumbles steadily outside and lightning flashes with brilliant, unmatched whiteness.

It is hard to believe that this place used to be alive with the energy of youth, was once warm and cosy, was once welcoming and friendly, was once a place of happiness and love.

Now the only bustle in the room comes from a few cockroaches who have clichťd their way into the scene. Warmth is little more than a comforting afterthought. A bad-tempered dog that has taken one-too-many beatings would be deemed friendlier.

Happiness and love?

Most definitely proclaimed non-survivors.

Since that night, the night it happened, the room, the school, even the town, seems to have been bleached of life, drained of all colour.

White replaced by black; hot replaced by cold; joy replaced by sadness; Heaven by Hell.

Life by death.

 

Chapter Two

-The Flock-

Better by far that you should forget and smile
Than you should remember and be sad

-Christina Rossetti, ĎRememberí

* * * * *

Sergeant Hook was a tall, but surprisingly burly, man in his late forties. His black hair was thinning at the crown with spots of grey beginning to show, and his forehead was lined with dozens of wrinkles etched over the years by thousands of frowns.

The clock on his desk read a quarter-past-two in the morning, and behind the desk sat Hook, working late on a rash of vigilante killings in the town from the past few days.

He had his head buried in the latest report: one slaughtered pensioner, two victims with half of their heads blown off, and one really fat guy who had suffered a bullet in the back and a shattered skull. "Nasty..." Hook muttered.

A knock at the door made him jump, spilling pages and photographs from the report. Hook looked up towards the door.

A big, black silhouette blocked out most of the light coming in through the window from the corridor. Hook was pretty sure he knew who it was at the door, it was the suspect for the killings ... no, it was the killer.

"Come in."

The door slowly swung open, and, before anything else, a big, black bird flew in through the doorway. It circled the room once and landed on Hookís desk with a caw. "Holy doughnuts!"

"Iím sorry if my friend startled you," a cool, calm voice apologised, "heís not used to being around people." A huge figure walked around the door, turned, and closed it. The figure was dressed head to toe in black: from the tips of his jet black hair to the soles of his black cowboy-style boots. His face was painted sheet-white. "You said we could have coffee sometime," the figure said, noticing Hookís quizzical expression.

"You died, man," Hook said. "You were buried, I went to the funeral."

"I know."

"Then, what are you doing here?"

The figure sat cross-legged on the chair in front of Hookís desk. "In what way? Here in your office, or here in life?"

"Well ... ugh..." Come to think of it, Hook was curious why this young man who had died three years ago was now sat opposite him, alive and well. "... Um ... both, I suppose."

"I want to know how it happened ... everything. Tell me about Ravenís little gang."

"You mean The Flock? Okay..." The man dressed in black sat silently as Hook told him the history of the townís last few black years...

* * * * *

"I remember it as if it was yesterday. They rode into town at the turn of the millennium like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or something, over seventy of the bastards though, and they spread like a disease: expanding, growing, gaining support all the time.

"Of course, every druggie shithead, drunken bum, and petty thief in town joined their cause, that surprised no-one. What was surprising was the other people who joined them: average, everyday folk who had little or no criminal connections or records - shopkeepers; bar owners; bankers; storeworkers; teachers; homemakers; social workers; vast quantities of schoolkids; students; the homeless; and the unemployed.

"To some extent, my own undermanned police force began living by the rule, ĎIf you canít beat Ďem, join Ďem.í That was why very little has been done about all this criminal activity.

"As their numbers grew, so did their power. The gang, and their leaders - Raven, Vulture and the Detroit Mafia boss Top Dollar, killed the mayor and town council, and instantly took over. Ever since then Totnes has been under the control of ĎThe Flockí - the name chosen by Top Dollar when he was back in America.

"I guess he kind of thought that calling a crime syndicate ruled by people with names like Raven and Vulture, The Flock would be pretty funny ... very American!

"In the three years since they arrived, the drug industry has boomed - Totnes is now the drug capital of Europe - and almost sixty-five percent of the population over the age of twelve use drugs on a regular basis. Murders rates are high - equalling several major cities in America; robbery is now such a commonplace event that it has become a way of life. The streets are full of prostitutes - the Royal Seven Stars Hotel has become a brothel; rapes, and gang rapes, are also very frequent.

"And thanks to Top Dollar, arson is now an annual event - on the night of the 30th of every October, the town is besieged with arson, with generous amounts of robbery, murder, assault, and rape.

"That night is nicknamed ĎDevilís Nightí - a night when up to a dozen buildings can be burnt down to the foundations and nobody would notice.

"Top Dollar introduced Devilís Night in the year 2000 to us unsuspecting Totnesians as a means of striking fear into the hearts of the many good, decent, honest folk like you and me who refused to co-operate with The Flock and to undermine the little confidence left in the police force.

"Since that first Devilís Night, the night you were killed, Top Dollar has returned to Detroit to expand The Flock there, and Raven and Vulture have ruled Totnes with fear and bullets.

"I guess you and your friends were just the first of many unfortunate people who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time."

* * * * *

When Hook looked up, he noticed that the man had started to weep. "You okay?"

"Yeah." There was no emotion in the manís words.

Stuck for words, Hook stood up and walked to a filing cabinet, opening up the drawer marked ĎE-Fí. He pulled out a file...

It was marked ĎTHE FLOCKí. "Here, read ... this..." Hook turned around to find the chair empty, and he was alone. He hadnít even heard the door open.

It was as if the figure had vanished into thin air. "Damn, you donít stick around long, do you?"

 

Chapter Three

-The dark angel arises-

Fall fall fall fall
Into the walls
Jump jump out of time
Fall fall fall fall
Out of the sky
Cover my face as the animals die
In the hanging garden

-The Cure, ĎThe Hanging Gardení

* * * * *

THUD!

THUD!

A thudding in the darkness. A thudding that he only became aware of after ten or eleven thuds. A thudding that he could not find the source of. A thudding that hammered on his skull.

THUD!

THUD!

He breathed in deeply, the air was dry and there was a faint twang of something he just couldnít quite put his finger on. He tried to look around, but found that he could barely move; there were walls on all sides and very little space to move in.

It was so dark he might as well have been blind.

THUD!

THUD!

It reverberated around the tiny chamber.

Whoís making that noise? He thought to himself; his head was aching, in fact every fibre in his body hurt one way or another - especially his throat.

THUD!

THUD!

Will they stop already?

Then, he abruptly realised it was he who was producing the thudding sounds. He was rhythmically pounding the wall in front of him...

Wall ... or something else?

Several minutes later he decided that hitting the wall, or whatever, was getting him nowhere fast. He assumed he wanted move it, so he placed his palms flat on the soft, silk-lined padding of the wall and tried pushing instead.

A soft, silk-lined padded wall..? Where the Hell am I? Something just was not right. The aching was steadily growing worse, and his throat was just sheer agony.

As he continued to push, the veins in his forearms bulged like steel wires trapped beneath his skin, and the walls began to creak.

A few more minutes passed before the wall moved a little and a small crack of pale moonlight broke through the darkness, accompanied by a trickle of muddy water that splattered his face, leaving a soily residue. The unmistakable sound of a downpour drumming the other side of the wall, or whatever it was filtered, through with it.

Muddy rainwater? He thought, rubbing the residue between the thumb and forefinger of one hand while still pushing with the other. Now Iím really confused. The pain was now approaching unbearable levels of agony, and he began to see flashes of colour and bright lights in front of his eyes, in the darkness.

Then, his clouded mind figured out that he was lying on his back - he had been the whole time.

Of course! How else could the rainwater hit me? The excitement of solving this minor mystery was replaced almost instantly by a feeling of dread as he concluded that the only place he could be was...

Finding almost superhuman strength from some unknown reserves, he raised the padded wall until it was almost vertical, and sat up. The downpour hit him immediately, battering his partially naked body with hard, icy-cold shards of water, and a vicious wind bit at him, sweeping his long, jet black hair around his face where it stuck, plastered across his features.

The pain was beyond unbearable, now. It washed over his body and beat him like storm waves on the sea front. His throat felt as if someone had taken hot coals and force-fed them to him.

Slowly but surely he dragged himself up and out of whatever it was he had lain in, sinking his fingers deep into the wet earth and pulling himself forwards. Mud smeared down the front of his pain-ravaged body and oozed up through the gaps between his fingers, clogging underneath his nails.

When he was clear he lay motionless for a long time, screaming from the very bottom of his lungs in a twisted mixture of agony and fear; he had screamed through the entire thing.

He became vaguely aware of a harsh cawing coming from behind him. He had not heard it the first time because of the noise he didnít even know he was making.

He turned to confront the source of the caw. Perched upon a large carved stone at the head of the pit he just hauled himself from was a big, black bird.

A crow.

His eyes barely noticed the bird, however. They were focused on the stone. He didnít even read the engraved message on it. He had put two and two together. He knew what kind of stone it was.

It was a gravestone.

And according to the inscription in the stone, it was his gravestone!

As a result of exhaustion, the pain, and this new shock, his world slowly faded into a comforting blackness.

* * * * *

He opened his eyes and found himself in a train carriage, staring out of the window but not focusing on what he saw as the scenery sped past.

Outside, quiet streets lined with council houses passed by; cars by the dozen on busy motorways; cows, sheep and horses grazing in fields; farmers ploughing and harvesting; a young family letting their dogs run and jump and frolic.

But he paid no attention to these sights.

The inside of the carriage was standard. Row upon row of shiny, polished plastic-coated chipboard tables with a metal stand in the middle and cushioned seats with food and drink-stained, cigarette-burnt, time-worn upholstery.

The air smelled of people: hundreds of passengers and their hundreds of refreshments that they had consumed during their trips - old coffee, old tea, sandwiches, crisps, chocolates, cigarettes, cigars, fruit - if there was anything that would have left a scent, it was there.

He paid no attention to any of this, either.

A voice, professional and bored, came over the trainís PA system announcing that the next stop was approaching and any passengers due to depart should prepare to do so... nobody moved, there were no passengers to move on the entire train - there was him, and him alone.

He did not acknowledge this, and had he known he was alone he would not consider it strange either.

A voice, not the bored professional one, echoed from somewhere, not from the PA system. The voice instead was cold and lifeless and it chilled him to the bone.

"Donít look." It said.

He arched his head from side to side, searching with his eyes for the source of the voice, the cold, lifeless voice.

But he found no source, it was too loud to have come from a different carriage, but he was alone in this one. Could I have imagined it? He pondered, still searching.

Eventually, he gave up and returned to the window.

But it was different somehow; there was something wrong with what he was seeing. The train approached an albino-white pony that was galloping alongside the fence separating it from the tracks. The fence was basically a set of thick wooden posts with six strands of barbed wire attached.

He stared at the pony; it looked normal physically, as did its surroundings. It was less than seven feet away and he could see every detail. It was galloping in a slow, almost lazy way that reminded him of...

Then it hit him.

It was all moving in slow-motion.

Is this a dream? He thought. Or am I going crazy? The ponyís head turned towards him, itís face a perfect picture of feral innocence.

"Donít look." That voice again, insistent this time; but this time he did not search for it.

But his mind searched for it, demanding that the rest of him followed suit. But he couldnít pull his eyes away from the albino.

Ahead, some of the fence posts had been uprooted, tearing the barbed wire from the posts further on to form a tangled, lethal, razor-sharp mess on the ground.

"Donít look." The voice is almost demanding, now. And now he wants to comply, he wants to avert his eyes, turn his head and hide.

But he canít. His body is frozen; his eyelids have forgotten their function. His eyes are fixed on the doomed albino-white pony.

"Donít look!"

Too late.

The pony runs headlong into the wire, and the steel barbs draw long red lines of pain in its flesh. More wires bind the ponyís neck, muzzle and legs like steel brambles.

Blood flows freely, the shrieking ponyís legs buckle and it falls right into the wiry mess. It writhes in agony, wrapping itself in yet more of the deadly wire.

Flesh rends and blood spurts as arteries sever.

He is thankful he cannot hear the albinoís agonised shrieks and squeals, and even more thankful when the train finally passes after what seems an eternity, leaving behind the horrific sight.

A big, black crow appears on the seat next to him.

He nearly jumps out of his skin when a skeletal hand drops onto his shoulder. He slowly turns, his paralysis passed, tears smeared on his cheeks, and stares up into a pair of empty eye sockets.

The skeleton is dressed in a conductor's uniform; the train slows into the station. The crow is now standing next to him, and it talks to him in a kind of mental telepathy.

[What has he been telling you, kid?]

A cold, lifeless voice comes from somewhere within the skeleton as its jawbone begins to move.

"Ticket please."

* * * * *

He snapped wide awake, breathing heavily, gulping in air, and noticing immediately that the pain had subsided, except for in his throat.

He was back in the graveyard.

He didnít know how long he had been out for; the rain had slowed considerably but not stopped, and the crow had now moved from his gravestone to the withered branch of a dead tree overlooking his grave.

Isnít anything alive in this place?

With a caw, the crow took flight, and once again he heard the cold, lifeless voice of the skeleton, but this time in his head, as the crow had spoken to him.

{Follow the crow, boy.}

Shivering from the cold and the pain, he hauled himself to his feet and began to walk.

 

The Crow

DARK ANGEL

PART TWO
FEAR

HE SCREAMS AND SCREAMS AND POUNDS HIS HEAD
AGAINST THE WALL UNTIL WAILING PHANTOM FIRETRUCKS
PACES ACROSS HIS VISION.
PAIN, PAIN IS ALL HE WANTS.
AND HATE, YES HATE.
WE SHALL NEVER FORGET AND NEVER FORGIVE.
AND NEVER EVER FEAR.
FEAR IS FOR THE ENEMY.
FEAR AND BULLETS.

 

Chapter Four

-Information-

"Face it. If crime did not pay, there would be very few criminals."

-Laughton Lewis Burdock

* * * * *

In one of the poorer areas of Totnes, a burly black man with close-cut wiry black hair was easing himself out of a first-floor flat window. When he was completely out he reached back in through the window and pulled out his bounty: one Toshiba-make VCR. As he walked away from the scene of the crime he began muttering to himself in a heavy African-American accent.

"Oh yeah! Jones got Toshiba, now ... I get a hundred easy! I be in the rock tonight, man!" He turned a corner into a steam-filled alleyway. "Make me sick, folks like dem, they canít afford to feed they own kids but they got Toshiba."

He spat on the ground. "But now Jones Transfer got Toshiba and Jones be in the rock tonight."

As Jones reached the end of the alleyway, a big, dark figure loomed out of the steam and stopped less than a foot in front of him.

"Holy shit!" The Toshiba crashed onto the pavement, breaking open the plastic casing and spilling cogs and its various other VCR innards over the ground.

In an almost deadpan voice, the figure asked him, "Do I have your attention, Mr. Jones?" He was clad from head to toe in black: jet black hair, black leather trenchcoat, skin-tight black tee-shirt, black jeans, and black leather cowboy-style boots. His face was painted like some sort of mime, a demented and evil harlequin, a ghostly white mask with black trim.

Two thin black vertical lines stretched halfway down each cheek and halfway up his forehead. His lips were, likewise, painted black with, with two more thin black lines stretching from the corners of his mouth like a sick, demented, painted grin.

Jones was irate; forgetting the urge to find out how this freak knew his name, and ignoring the freakís question, he began shouting.

"Attention!? Man, you jusí scared the crap outta me!" He pointed to the jumbled mess on the ground. "You jusí cost me a hundred quid, pal! I thinks you better cough up some cash! Pay up, now!"

"Shelby the Giant told me that you know Raven..." the man in black began as Jones flicked open a switchblade and aimed the point in the general direction of the man in black, waving it back and forth. "... Tom-Tom ... Choke ... Vulture ... Saturn ... Skinny Puppy..."

"I said pay up!" Jones yelled, interrupting the man in black and waving the knife in a more agitated manner. "Last chance!"

The man in black just continued. "... He told me you could give me the location of some of your companions..."

"Thatís it!" Jones snapped. "You all done!" He plunged the knife deep into the man in blackís chest and pulled his hand away, leaving the knife embedded.

The man in black didnít react.

"Man," Jones gasped. "You musí be dusted not to feel that..!"

The man in black slowly looked down at the knife as if he had just noticed it then looked back at Jones with the most God-awful sickeningly evil grin Jones had ever seen. A true grin from hell. "Pain..?" he slowly asked. "I know pain at the molecular level, it pulls on my atoms, sings to me in an alphabet of fear. I am the boiling man come to break the bones of your sins, meat puppet."

"Oh, fuck..." Jones murmured, backing against a wall. The man in black slowly grabbed the handle of the knife with one hand, twisted it with a gut-churning wet crunch, and pulled it out. Jones was trying not to vomit, and his bladder was suddenly full. "You a loon..!"

Blood poured from the wound, pooling in a part of broken Toshiba VCR casing.

And then it stopped.

Then blood began seeping slowly back into the wound.

Then the wound closed up all by itself, without leaving a scar. The only indication that the man in black had been stabbed was a small slit in his tee-shirt.

The man in black sadistically licked the blade clean of blood and offered it back to Jones. "Care for another try?"

Is this guy serious? Jones thought, and after replaying in his mind the events of the previous minute he concluded that this guy was being deadly serious.

"I-I-I..." Jones stuttered, his nerves were shot to Hell, he could barely speak. "I th-th-thinks Iíll p-pass..." Nevertheless, he took the knife and pocketed it instantly, without even so much as a millisecondís thought of attacking a second time - he was no genius, but he was no fool; he knew when to give up.

"Look," the man in black was staring into the night sky. "Itís a full moon ... it was a full moon on that night, as well."

"Th-thatís a street light, g-ghost man." Jonesí bladder nearly let go; this guy was crazy for sure! "Wh-wh-wh-who are y-you, m-m-m-man?"

The man in black raised one eyebrow quizzically, perhaps not expecting that question. "November," he replied, thinking of the month of his birthday.

"W-what?" Jones was shaking like a leaf, his overloaded bladder had finally given up, and a dark, wet stain was spreading across his crotch.

"November. Thatís my name - like the month." A small tic of amusement flitted across Novemberís face. "Youíve had a little accident, Mr. Jones."

"Ugh, y-yeah..." But Jones made no attempt to cover it up.

"Now, let me start again, Mr. Jones." November buried his hands in two of the pockets of his coat. "Raven and the others - where are they? Shelby the Giant didnít know, but he told me you would."

Jones shook his head rapidly from side to side. Shelby was the toughest guy in Totnes, he wouldnít tell nobody nothing! "No way ... Shelby never roll on m-me, m-man!"

November grinned that evil Devil-on-crack grin again, its effect worsened by the black lines running from his mouth. "Oh, he told all right," he produced a blood-smeared pair of hand-held wire cutters from one of the pockets. "It took four digits, but he told." November slowly slid his thumb up the inside of one of the blades, releasing a thin trickle of blood; as before, the wound healed up almost instantly.

Jonesí knees gave out on him, and he slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor. "You lyiní..." His voice was almost inaudible.

Another arched eyebrow. "I would have brought the fingers as proof but he had to eat them also."

"I-I-I-I c-canít roll on n-nobody, m-man. R-raven r-rub me out f-físure."

"I want to know where I can find them, Mr. Jones," November knelt beside the terrified thief and waved the clippers in a mocking, agitated fashion. "Fingers or toes?"

Jones began crying like a baby. "Okay, okay, okay..."

"When youíre ready, Mr. Jones."

"Th-th-the Seven St-stars at the b-bottom Ďo town ... itís the hohouse. Y-you find mosí th-the guys th-there..." He cupped his hand over his face, further muffling his already muffled speech. "Th-thereís usually a-a-a l-lot oí them gettiní high in th-th-there, Raven aní V-vulture m-might be there. I ainít seen Skinny Puppy or Saturn in weeks ... Tom-Tom got a pl-pl-place d-down on th-th-the plains ... Choke b-b-be outta t-town Ďtill the twenty-seventh ... you gonna kill me now?"

"Why, Mr. Jones," satisfied, November put the wire cutters back in his pocket, stood up and began walking away. "I already count you among the dead." He waved a goodbye. "Thank you for your co-operation."

"A-a-a-anytime..." Jones whimpered, watching as a big, black bird swooped out of nowhere and land on Novemberís shoulder. He was beginning to think heíd gone fear crazy, but Jones was certain that as the other man was walking away, he was having a conversation with the bird.

"Mr. Jones," November called.

"Y-yeah?"

"Are there spots in a leopardís eyes, also?"

 

Chapter Five

-Bad memories-

"A building gets torched: all that is left is ashes. I used to think that was true about everything - families, friends, feelings. But now I know, if two people are meant to be together nothing can keep them apart."

-Rochelle Davis, ĎThe Crowí

* * * * *

He was back outside the canteen, it was late evening and, as expected, the school was deserted.

He was over half an hour early, but the TV roomís lights were on. "Perfect." He said, gleefully. Everything was as it should be.

He carefully opened the canteen door and slipped inside, making sure the door closed as quietly as possible behind him. He removed his black leather trenchcoat, pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels from the inside pocket and hung the coat on the rack; the coat rack was fully five feet from the ground but the trenchcoat touched the floor with ease.

He silently glided up the stairs, taking great care to avoid treading on the step with a creak. When he reached the top he put his ear to the door and began counting mentally. One ... two ... three...

The only sounds were of a girl trying to play the guitar and cursing every time she played the wrong string. Good, sheís alone...

After reaching twenty-five, he slowly turned the door handle and stepped through the doorway. "Surprise!"

Nina was indeed alone, sitting on the far table, guitar in hand. "What kept you?" She asked. She had already set up most of the eveningís entertainment: six shot glasses, three pint glasses, an assortment of videos, a dozen CDs, a pack of playing cards (Playboy-issued no doubt), a six-pack of beers, bottles of cider and tequila, six jumbo bags of tortilla chips, and four tubs of chilli dips.

All that was missing was a hi-fi, a few bags of pretzels, and some Tabasco sauce!

He set the whiskey down next to the rest of the booze and sat next to Nina, they kissed and sat together.

He patted the guitar. "Been practising?" The last of the weak winter sun had disappeared beneath the blanket of darkness, the others were due to arrive soon.

"I certainly have." Nina grinned, her fingers stroking the guitar strings. She began to play, slightly off-key.

"Youíre not holding the strings tight enough, press harder," he advised, positioning the fingers of his left hand over hers to add pressure, "use the tips of your fingers."

"But my fingers arenít strong enough." Nina complained.

He smelt the faint aroma of her body and the vague scent of her perfume, felt the warmth of her body through her clothes. His interest in her playing quickly began to evaporate.

"Your fingers will get stronger eventually, and the tipsíll harden. Here, feel how mine are." Obediently, she touched his fingers with hers, and he looked down at her as their hands interlaced. He took the guitar and placed it on the floor and pulled her towards him; breathless with elation, he felt Nina open her lips under his and they lay back on the table, senses swimming.

A harsh voice filled his mind, and in the corner of his eye he saw the crow in an open window. [Címon, kid,] it said. [You donít want to go through this again. Letís go...]

He ignored the crow and surrendered to the responses of his body.

[This is where you smile...] The crow mocked.

They finally drew apart and smiled at each other.

[And here comes the eternal love part...]

"I love you." He murmured.

"Forever?" He stared into her eyes, forgetting the crow.

"Forever."

"Only forever?"

"Forever ... and ever." They smiled.

[Idiot.]

They kissed again, and he hovered his hand over her breast, not daring to caress. Sensing this, she arched her back and pressed her body against his.

BOOM!

A deafening explosion filled the room, and he felt something warm, wet and lumpy splatter his face and body. He opened his eyes, and stared down at the pulpy red mess that had replaced Ninaís head.

Standing beside the table was a Smith and Wesson-carrying skeleton dressed in an Old West-style sheriffís suit - bow tie and all.

A Skull Cowboy.

It holstered the gun and mercilessly scolded him, "Why do you live in the past, boy?"

[Nice outfit, eh kid?] The crow, still standing in the window, added sarcastically.

He screams and screams and pounds his head against the wall until wailing phantom firetrucks race across his vision.

Pain, pain is all he wants. And hate.

Yes, hate.

But never fear. Fear is for the enemy.

Fear and bullets.

 

Chapter Six

-White Heat-

"I knew I knew you, I knew I knew you ... but you ainít you... we put you through the window, there ainít no cominí back! This is the really real world, there ainít no cominí back! We killed you dead, there ainít no cominí back!"

-T-Bird, ĎThe Crowí

* * * * *

Itís still, so still, in the town of Totnes tonight.

Twelve oíclock tick tock, when all that is good slinks away like a beaten dog and the black, black shadows are alive with evil.

So grey and despairing, strong as steel but collapsed inside, November laughs under a street light, a voodoo smile of one who lived and died yet still lives...

He makes his way to the place that he calls home where he can be shapeless in the dark, and paint his face in the colours of joy...

Tonight, Hell sends an angel bearing gifts...

* * * * *

In the town, in the school, in a forgotten room...

A shape, a young man. He stares out from an upstairs window, unmoving, yet seeing nothing, lifeless and sick, slumped in despair.

He is listening to sounds, to voices that have been gone for three years, but still ring so loudly...

He hears gunshots ... girls screaming, crying, sobbing, and begging...

He could not help them, but now he cannot remember why...

He hears menís voices, shouts, so evil and grim. He hears their names: Raven, Choke, Vulture, Saturn, Skinny Puppy and Tom-Tom...

The sounds sink into his heart like ice and burn in his head with a heat so intense it glows white...

* * * * *

In another part of town, at a totally different time, 67 year-old Bea Morris was walking home from the local grocery after her weekly shopping trip.

A few yards ahead on the opposite corner of the street, two men were approaching a third, who was standing in front of a boarded up cafť. The first man was easily two stone overweight, he wore a faded denim jacket over a tee-shirt that covered him down to his naval, a red and white wool bobble hat upon his head and a permanent grin on his face.

His companion, in stark contrast, was as thin as a stick. He sported an Errol Flynn-style moustache and a cheap brown suede jacket; a lit cigarette hung from his lips.

The two men stopped in from of the man by the ex-cafť. He was wearing black sneakers, jeans, a buttonless leather waistcoat with nothing underneath and a blue bandanna.

"Hey, Saturn," the fat man beamed. "Weíre here, just like I said! Wait till ya see what Ratsoís got ya!"

"Watícha got, Ratso," the bandanna man asked the stick man. "More dirty pitchers?"

The stick man with the Errol Flynn moustache dragged deep on his cigarette and pulled a revolver from his cheap suede coat pocket. ". 38 ... not traceable. Hot from the East Side." He handed the gun to Saturn, who began an inspection of the weapon.

"Nice huh, Sat!" Fat Eddie was still grinning.

"How much?"

Ratso checked a piece of paper. "Hunnert quid aní Iím gone."

"íSounds good." Saturn nodded in agreement. "Let's see how it works, though."

"Sure," Ratso replied, "letís go over to Cass aní..."

Saturn raised the gun and fired across the street. The bullet struck Bea in the neck; she was dead before she even hit the ground and the contents of her grocery bag spilled onto the tarmac road.

The grin fell off Fat Eddieís face faster than a lemming off a cliff. "What are you doiní man!? Oh man, oh man! Youíre nuts!"

Ratso stuck a bony finger in Saturnís face and began shouting. "Damn you! You gonna bring the Blues down on alla us!" The cigarette fell from his lips and landed in the street, slowly burning down. "I come down here in good faith aní you pull this! You a fool! A fool!"

"Saturn," Fat Eddie whined, "what did you snuff that olí lady for?"

Saturn raised the pistol again and pressed the barrel between Ratsoís eyes. "ĎMember that bad pony you stuck me with?"

Ratso pulled his finger away from Saturnís face and raised his hands above his head. "Hey man, I can..."

It was a single syllable word, but Ratso began it with a whole head, and finished it with only half. "You out, Ratso."

"You crazy motherfu..." Fat Eddie turned on his heels and tried running down the street as fast as his blubbery legs could carry him. "Youíre crazy, man!"

"... Aní Vulture says you been rolliní in his district." A third bullet hit Fat Eddie square between the shoulder blades and he fell to the ground, shattering his skull on the pavement.

As if on cue, it began to rain ... a last, desperate, futile attempt to wash sin from the streets...

Bea was just pantomiming her life, counting days between pension cheques and Valium refills. Sheíll be buried in the town cemetery and her prized puppies, Fred and Barney, will be thrown into the street by an uncaring landlord.

When Ratso was born in the one of the ghettos in New York, housing standards plummeted. If the town were of flesh, Ratso would be a boil.

Fat Eddieís brother overdosed on dope when Eddie was ten. He swore heíd never go in that direction, but when the town drops into the night, things so wrong seem oh so right...

Saturn slipped into an alleyway, a cat through the side door, his soul so twisted it could only have been spawned from the seed of Satan. It was a chilly October night, but he was flushed with heat, and as he crept along the alley, the silhouette of a man formed in the steam.

The man was dressed in black and his face was as white as ashes. "Hello, Saturn," he said, standing motionless with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his long black leather trenchcoat. "Remember me?"

"No, I donít." Saturn still held the .38 in his hand. "What you all painted up for, boy?"

"A funeral march."

"Your own!" Two gunshots echoed around the alley before being swallowed up by the silence of the night. One bullet grazed the head of the man in black, the other ploughed through Saturnís right wrist. His .38 clattered to the ground and rested, half submerged, in a puddle. Saturn stumbled, and fell to the ground, propped up against the wall.

November walked up to him, drew a smoking pistol from the right pocket of his trenchcoat and pressed it to Saturnís chest. He began to recite. "Rejoice to the full in the glory of what is about to be yours..."

"Who dífuck are you!?"

"... And give thanks to the Lord God who has called you to his Kingdom!"

"Man, I donít even know you!"

November pressed his forehead against Saturnís, talking in a slow, mantic voice. "Three years ago ... a cold October night ... a small room above a school canteen ... three girls ... three boys ... madness ... pain ... and shadows ... my God, the shadows..."

Saturnís eyes widened in fearful recognition. "You..? Choke said you was dead!"

FEAR

"Am I not?"

"You canít come back! You dead, man!"

"Oh, but I am back..."

"Choke done it!" Saturn yelled. "He had the gun!"

"And the girls ... the blonde one ... the one you raped?"

"Man, she was out cold by the time I got to her..."

November jammed the barrel of the gun underneath Saturnís jaw. "The other two..?"

"We was all high, it jusí happened..." November wasnít listening anymore.

"Your soul rots..."

"I got connections," Saturn pleaded, "I kin fix you up..."

"It festers..." November pulled back the hammer with a click.

"Hey, hey! Iím talkiní to you, man! You canít..."

"But fear not..." Novemberís finger squeezed the trigger, the top of Saturnís head exploded outward, and Novemberís bullet ricocheted off the wall. "... I have medicine."

BULLETS

November stood up and walked away down the alley, the crow swooped out of the cold night air and followed. He removed a spent shell from the chamber of his gun and tied it in his hair; he arched his head back towards Saturn. "May God grant you the mercy I cannot."

 

The Crow

DARK ANGEL

PART THREE

IRONY

THE TIDES OF SIN DRAW TIGHTER AND BRIGHTER,

THE HOURS BECOME HEAVIER AND WEIGHTED,

AND THE SHADOWS SMILE, DARK AND WILD.

THIS IS WHEN HOPE AND DESIRE COLLAPSE,

THE ARC OF THE DREAM DESCENDS INTO DESPAIR,

WHEN INNOCENT LOVERS DANCE

LIKE ANGELS ON FIRE.

THIS IS WHEN THE NIGHT COMES DOWN,

A HAMMER ON AN ANVIL,

AND THE ONLY ABSOLUTION ACCEPTED

IS A LEGACY OF BRUTALITY.

A SINGLE NOTE RINGS ON AND ON.

 

Chapter Seven

-Chemicals-

There is a man playing a violin...

And the strings are the nerves in his own arm.

-James OíBarr

* * * * *

He sits alone in the emptiness of the school canteen, and in front of him rest five photographs.

Five photographs he has removed from the official school yearbook.

A face smiles up at him from each one, five faces he had known so well, five faces he had loved so much ... four of them like brother and sister, and one so very much more...

In the first photo is Rocky Whitford, the school joker, grinning like a goon. He was a guy who could always make you smile no matter how foul a mood you were in.

Along the line, Joey Hamilton. Heís smiling falsely, bored and placid as the camera did its duty. He was also known as Joey the routine freak, Joey the boffin (as some would say) ... Joey the wild man.

Elizabeth Perryís photo is next, her features lit up by a naturally permanent excitement; she was one person that Rocky never needed to cheer up. And her best friend, Lara ĎBabyfaceí Kramer, whoís smile would wipe ten years off her already youthful complexion.

The fifth and final photo: Nina Tyler ... Dear Nina ... Sweet Nina ... Darling Nina ... Dead Nina...

He fights back the tears ... and presses the photograph of Nina close to his chest, rocking back and forth, the visions of his friends flowing through his tortured mind.

[Donít look.] The crow this time. When he heard it on the train, he hadnít remembered what it really meant, but it was the very same words the crow had said to him on that night. [Donít look, kid! Donít look!]

Slowly he released the photograph and laid it next to the others ... and, once again ignoring the crow, looked at it... "You bastard!"

Ninaís face had disappeared ... and the sick, toothy grin of the Skull Cowboy had replaced it. "You were told not to look, boy."

* * * * *

"Somebody blew his frigging head off, man!" A man with a thick, black goatee and a scar running across his left cheek complained. "And we think you should look into it."

The man he was talking to was cutting heroin and wrapping it in tin foil packages; he was tall and had long silvery hair to match his long silvery beard. "Are you dictating to me, Sanchez?"

"Naw, Raven." Another man, dressed in an expensive Versace suit and Ray Ban sunglasses, sat opposite Sanchez and to Ravenís right interrupted. There were two other men in the room, bodyguards for Sanchez and the man in Versace, both stood at the end of the table, upon which each manís gun was placed. "Heís just saying it looks bad on you..."

"Looks like you ainít got any control." Sanchez added.

Raven flicked his half smoked cigarette at the man in Versace and roared: "Do you think I care if one of your punks gets snuffed!?"

"Hey, man..."

"Shut up!" Raven stood up, picking his old Smith & Wesson up off the table. "This is my outfit, my dope aní my neighbourhood! My word is the law!" He drew back the hammer of the old gun and pointed it in the direction of each man in the room. "The floor is now open for opposing viewpoints."

None came.

The man in the Versace suit wasnít looking at the gun, however, he saw some movement in the roomís single window situated behind Raven.

Something big, and black too. "Hey! Thereís something moving out there!"

Sanchez walked over to the window. "This is a fifth-fucking-floor apartment for Christís sake..." He opened the window and stuck his head through.

There was something out there! Or, rather, someone. A man...

A man with a ghostly-white painted face. "Who the Hell are you!?"

The man put the barrel of a gun to Sanchezís head. "Santa Claus..." He fired a bullet down Sanchezís ear and climbed in the window, pushing Sanchezís body out of the way. "... And youíve all been very bad this year."

Leaping on to the table, he fired a second shot into the chest of Mr. Versace-wearer. Blood began seeping through the fabric of the suit. "Oh, shit ... blood..." Versace-wearer moaned incoherently. "Fuckiní bullet-proof vest not workiní."

"Poor soul, one need not suffer so..." November shot the man in the face, snapping the Ray Bans, and killing him outright. All Hell broke out as the two bodyguards tried to find their weapons, Raven fired two shots into Novemberís back.

November hardly felt them. He swung his leg back and kicked Raven in the face with the heel of his boot, the Smith & Wesson skidded across the room and Raven found himself sat back in the chair, blood pouring from his split lip.

"Whereís my gun!?" One bodyguard cried.

"This be mine, man!" The other yelled back.

"No way, Sanchez is layiní on yours..."

That be a .44! That mine!" The second argued.

"Shoot him!" Raven ordered. "Somebody shoot him!"

The man with the .44 calibre turned around to face November. "What might your name be, Mr .44?" November asked him, candidly.

"They calls me Mad Jack, remember that!"

"Oh, a poet, Mad Jack!" November laughed. "I shall remember that!" a single bullet stopped Mad Jack before the bodyguard even had a chance to get a shot off.

"Look out!" Raven shouted, frozen to the chair with fear. "Look out!"

The other bodyguard caught sight of his gun and scrambled under the table to get it. November fired three shots down through the table. "Iím hit! Iím hit!" The bodyguard yelled; a fourth shot silenced him.

Another figure rose up from below the table, holding a .44 calibre pistol. "Mad Jack!" November cried, almost delighted. "You sport a vest also!? No honour among thieves?"

"Iím gonna cap you, man!" Mad Jack fired once, but the bullet missed November and shattered the roomís only lightbulb instead, plunging the room into darkness.

"You have to hit me first, Jack." Mad Jackís bullet-proof vest didnít save him this time, and he fell to the floor in a shower of blood, brain fragments, cranial fluid, and chunks of skull.

"Well, well, Raven ... looks like you are the only one still wasting good air." November turned around, flicked on Ravenís reading lamp, and sat cross-legged in front of Raven, on the table; he picked up the lamp and shone the beam of light into Ravenís face. "Do you remember me? Look close, now, Raven..."

"Look pal, I donít know what this is about ... but if I done ya wrong Iíll make it up to ya."

"... Three girls and three boys..."

"Thereís five grand in the dresser over there." Raven was suddenly in the negotiating mood. "Take it aní go, weíll forget all about this..."

"... In a school..."

"Man, take the dope, too. Thereís almost half a kee left ... itís worth ten K easy."

November scooped up a handful of heroin. "You would barter your life with chemicals?" he asked, throwing the drugs across the room in a powdery snowfall. "Now, where was I?"

"Youíre an idiot!" Raven barked.

"... Oh, yes! A room above the canteen..."

"I offer you fifteen grand and you act like it donít mean nothiní!"

"... You raped the girls..."

"You ainít even listeniní! Man, youíre a frigging nut!" Suddenly it all became clear to him: this guy was crazy! If he could just push him over the edge, he might be able to get out of thisÖ "You gonna shoot me!? Come on, shoot!" Raven dared, goading his captor. "Come on, motherfucker, shoot me!"

"... Their names were Lara ... Elizabeth ... and Nina..."

"You worthless punk!"

"Do you remember?"

"Yeah, I remember the broads aní the school, so what?"

"So this." A bullet tore into Ravenís left eye, and he rocked back on his chair, scarlet blood and black ocular fluid dripping down the left side of his face.

"You can go to Hell..." Raven grimaced.

"Iíve been waiting for a guide to take me by the hand." November fired twice more, both bullets smashing into Ravenís head. "When sorrows come, they come not in single spies but in battalions." November suddenly couldnít help but feel like Hamlet after vanquishing his evil uncle. "Iíve allies in Heaven, Raven, Iíve comrades in Hell ... say hello for me."

November left Raven slumped in his chair and walked over to the dresser that the late co-leader of The Flock had pointed to. "Why Mr. Raven, I see you have quite a large cache of assault weapons, all quite legal of course..." he exclaimed, opening each drawer. "Any objections to my borrowing say, a dozen or so?"

Silence. "I didnít think so." He began unloading various guns and ammunition from the drawers and stuffing them into a sports bag he found in the top drawer; he picked up a bundle of money from the middle drawer, there was indeed £5,000. "I think I will have that money after all, friend. You never know when it might come in handy. I know you wonít have any problems forgetting this little event." He patted Ravenís bloody and broken head. "And this will certainly help me to forget ... Ciao."

 

Chapter Eight

-Dead Souls-

Jesus Christ walks into a hotel, he hands the innkeeper three nails and asks: "Can you put me up for the night?"

-Biblical Joke

* * * * *

"No, no!" Jimmy the paperboy cried as the two thugs held him against the wall of a large basement. "He was just buying a paper!"

One of the thugs slapped him hard and they both pressed knives against his flesh. "Quit your cryiní, retard," the first thug slapped him again and held his knife to Jimmyís cheek, "we seen you talking to Peace Officer Davies. Jusí Ďcause you got the Downís Syndrome donít mean you can act stupid with us."

"I do believe heís lyiní, Anvil." The second thug put the blade of his knife to Jimmyís throat. "I think he rolled on us for torchiní the Safeway..."

"No!" Jimmy pleaded. "No!"

"We gonna hafta cut ya, retard." Anvil grinned.

"No! No! No! I didnít! I swear!"

The second thug began laughing. "I love it when they beg!"

"Please!" Jimmy was bawling his eyes out; salty tears ran down his cheeks onto the cold metal of the blades. "He just bought a paper! That was all he..."

The blade of Anvilís knife flashed down and slipped into Jimmyís gut, cutting him of in mid sentence. The second thug finished the job, slicing deep into Jimmyís throat.

"You really get off on this, donítcha?" The second thug asked, while they wiped the blood from their knives with handkerchiefs.

"Yeah!" Agreed Anvil. "It gets my blood pumpiní!" Neither man heard a faint swish of something cutting through the air.

"Kinda makes you lose your head, huh?"

No response.

The second thug turned his head just in time to see Anvilís headless body hit the floor and his severed head roll between Jimmyís legs. "What the..? Jesus! Oh, Jesus!"

"Hello, Tom-Tom." A dark figure stood a few feet away, a samurai sword held high above his head, ready to swing down and slice.

"Who the Hell are you!?" Tom-Tomís hand reached behind his back and grasped the butt of his gun.

"Go for the gun, Thomas." Before Tom-Tom had even drawn the weapon, November sliced through the power cord of the roomís one light in use, the room instantly went black. "Bedtime! Lights out!"

"Come on!" Tom-Tom fired three shots at where he had last seen November standing. "Iíll play your game!"

"Now I lay me down to sleep..." November sang the old prayer.

BANG! BANG! BANG! November fell silent. I got him, Tom-Tom assured himself. I know I got him...

"I pray the Lord my soul to keep..." There was a faint crunch as November stood on the remnants of the lightbulb. "If you die before I wake..."

Tom-Tom fired the last of his bullets in the direction of the crunch. "Oh, God! Jesus Christ!"

"Jesus Christ..." November mused. There was this one joke he knewÖ "No ... I think youíve already heard that one."

Tom-Tom began to rapidly reload, his fingers fumbling the fresh clip into its chamber. "Oh, God..."

"Watch your step, Tom-Tom..." There was another swish; Tom-Tomís feet went cold; and he fell to the ground, banging his head on the wall on the way down and landing next to Jimmyís lifeless body.

He heard the clunk, clunk of Novemberís boots getting closer, and then the room lit up as November switched on the second light. Tom-Tom looked down at the ground in front of him, and what he saw he didnít like. "Hey, man, those are my boots over there!"

November jammed the sword into the ceiling and sat down next to Tom-Tom, looking into his eyes. "Tom-Tom," he said, "three years ago you helped kill six teenagers - three boys and three girls - in a school canteen, do you remember?"

Tom-Tom nodded an affirmative. "Ugh, huh."

"There was no money, but you took all the jewellery the girls had on. Remember?"

"Yeah ... youíre one of them arenít you!?"

"I am."

"But I saw you die..."

November stood up. "As you see your own death before you now?"

"Saturn was on top of one of the broads. She was screaming aní screaming ... I jusí wanted her to shut up. I kicked her, she screamed and screamed... aní I jusí kept on kicking her until her face was all bloody..." November had now started to tear. "Aní then Choke shot her ... he shot her in the head aní blood splashed over my boots..." Tom-Tom wrapped his arms around himself, shivering. "My feet are cold, can I have my boots?"

"Youíll be asleep in a minute, Tom-Tom. Whereís the jewellery?"

"The jewellery, the jewellery..." Tom-Tom muttered, trying to remember. "Vulture always keeps stuff from the people he kills ... heís sick like that. Try him, heíll be back on the twenty-seventh ... can I go to sleep now?"

November nodded. "Sleep now." He walked over to the stairs leading out of the basement. "How wonderful is Death," he recited. "Death and his brother Sleep."

"Freeze!" A young voice echoed down the stairs. A policeman, probably a rookie, stood at the top with his gun trained on November.

"Go away, boy." November ordered. "You want none of this."

"Put your hands in the air and back up into the room!" November complied; the rookie followed him, not letting him out of sight. His eyes widened when he saw the three slumped figures against the wall. "My God, what happened to them?"

November shrugged. "They shouldnít have played with knives."

"Y-youíre under arrest..."

"Look at me, boy." November grinned his evil grin. "Put your gun away, bullets donít stop me ... knives donít hurt me ... look!" He slid the side of his arm down the blade of the sword, and the rookie watched wide-eyed as the huge gash healed up almost instantly. November read the nametag on the rookieís jacket. "Officer Davies, I am going to go through that doorway and up those stairs. I will not hurt you, but I am leaving." He walked towards the doorway.

"Back up!"

"Shoot me if you must, the result will be no different."

Davies hesitated, and the holstered his gun. " Oh, damn ... what should I say happened here?"

November was already halfway up the staircase, and either didnít hear him or chose not to. "Tell Sergeant Hook The Crow sends his regards ... and that it ends before the thirtieth... before Devilís Night."

* * * * *

"Captain Hook?" The voice on the other end of the telephone line asked. "I mean..."

"Dammit!" Hook yelled. "You guys know I hate that!"

"Sorry, Sir ... this is Davies, I transferred in about three..."

"I know, I know ... what do you want, Davies?"

"Umm ... well..." Davies mumbled. "Something ... err..."

"Get on with it, man!"

"Yes, Sir ... erm ... someone called The Crow sends his regards, Sir..."

"The Crow..? Big guy Ö six-three, six-four? Jet black hair? Real creepy lookiní?" Hook was excited, now.

"Yes, Sir ... he says itíll be over by the thirtieth, before Devilís Night, Sir."

"Jesusmaryjoseph! Where are you!? What are those sirens?"

"Umm ... Tom-Tomís place down on the plains ... thereís two stiffs and Tom-Tomís got no feet ... ugh, The Crow cut Ďem off, the ambulance just got here..."

"And you have Mr. Crow in custody, right Davies?"

"Umm ... no, Sir ... I let him ... he left..."

Hook thumped his desk so hard his half-full coffee mug fell over. "What!? Jesus Christ ... Davies go home, Iíll send the lab guys over."

"Thank you, Sir."

Sergeant Hook slammed down the telephone hard enough to crack the casing and began rubbing his head as if massaging away a headache.

After a while he stood up and walked over to his office filing cabinet, opened the drawer marked ĎC-Dí, flicked through the files until he found the correct one, and pulled it out. The word ĎHOMICIDEí was clearly marked in bright bold red letters.

He leafed through the file briefly, and slung it in the wastebasket beside his desk. "Perhaps God has some wisdom after all..."

 

Chapter Nine

-Twisted Sadness-

The rabbits play no more,

The little birds are weary,

The buttercups are folded up -

Good night, good night my dearie.

-Rose Fylenman, ĎGood Nightí

* * * * *

Sitting on a table in a school canteen, with no company save for five photographs and two puppies found on the street, a figure, dark and still. It could be a devil, it could an angel, burning with an anger fuelled by inertia, depth, radius, and velocity.

Its soul is a twisted wreckage of despair and pain. There is movement behind it, and it turns to look. "Barney? Fred? What have you got there?" The puppies are playing with an old Christmas bauble, batting it around, tink ta chink.

Batting it against the walls with the pads of their soft paws, tink ta chink, chack! Tink tink ta chink.

The bauble comes to a rest against the table leg. He reaches down and picks it up; the memories stored within it come flooding back.

Christmas Eve, 1999. Nina had set up a Christmas tree with the usual evening entertainment. He had burst in and they both yelled: "Surprise! Merry Christmas!"

A single, solitary tear dripped from his face.

("You put up a tree all by yourself?")

The face paint began to smear.

("Yep, only I didnít have a star for the top...")

("I could take out one of your eyes and use that.")

("Youíre so silly!")

(He kissed her. "Missed you.")

("Itís A Wonderful Life is on TV tonight." She hooked some tinsel around his neck.)

He rolled the bauble around in his hands.

("But we watched that last night." He protested, meekly. "The othersíll go mad!")

("But itís so romantic!")

("You gonna cry again?")

("Probably," she yanked his head down into kissing range, "so why donít you come down here and make me smile first.")

("Deal.")

More tears began rolling down his cheeks and dropping from his chin.

("So what did you get me for Christmas?")

("Canít say, itís not Christmas day yet!")

("Címon you Grinch!" She swung him around, and his leg brushed the tree, knocking a bauble off, which rolled behind the TV.)

November was snapped back to the present by the puppiesí barks. They were sat in front of him, waiting for him to give them back the bauble, tongues out, tails wagging.

"Nina," he sobbed, tears pooling on the smooth surface of the table. "I love you so much." Barney tried jumping up, attempting to knock the bauble away from him with his head in mid flight. He smiled in amusement through the tears.

He threw the bauble across the canteen, it skipped off the hard concrete floor, tink ta chink, and the puppies ran across the room after it, their tails swinging wildly and their name tags rattling against the metal studs in their collars. "Go away dogs, you make me smile too much."

* * * * *

November arrived at Vultureís house - and unlike the rest of The Flock thatís what it was, a house, not a flat - at seven-thirty in the evening, and already the dark of the night had begun to set in.

He walked slowly, sauntering, with his hands in his pockets and his senses on red alert. He catalogued each and every passing car, each and every passing pedestrian, each and every sound, each and every smell...

He observed Vultureís house. It was fairly pleasant in appearance; red-orange brick walls, double-glazed windows - none broken, a tile roof ... it could easily belong to a happy family without a care in the world.

But it didnít.

It belonged to the now sole leader of The Flock.

A monster.

A beaten up red hotrod parked in the driveway and a single light in the lower front window -- the living room window no doubt -- indicated that the beast was home. The curtains were drawn, but through them he could see a soft blue blur that just had to be a television.

Vulture was home.

Watching a little evening TV before setting out for a kill, Vulture? He wandered down the path, mounted the steps, and rang the bell. He waited, and then rang again.

His ears, already attuned to picking up the slightest sound, detected the sound of approaching feet. A voice, low and angry, echoed from inside. "Iím coming, motherfucker!"

As a silhouette slowly materialised in the blurred glass of the front door window, November raised his fist and plunged it into the centre of the approaching shape. The window shattered and fell in a million pieces to the floor.

"Why you frigginí punk!" Vulture growled.

"Mr. Vulture, I believe you have something of mine." November reached through the gap where the window used to be, and unlocked the door. "Iím looking for some jewellery..."

Vulture drew a Walther-make pistol and held it in front of Novemberís face. "Youíre gonna be looking for a good plastic surgeon in a minute, pal..."

"... Three rings ... a bracelet ... three necklaces..."

"Iím countiní to three aní then Iím gonna blow your head across the wall. One!"

"You are not listening, Mr. Vulture." Novemberís hand slowly sneaked behind his back.

"Two..."

"Three." November drew the samurai sword from its sheath held on his back and sliced clean through the wrist of Vultureís right arm. The hand, and the gun it was holding, dropped to the floor with a dull thud. "You stole them from six teenagers, three years ago."

"One m-moment p-please..." Vulture stumbled down the hallway and stopped by the broom cupboard underneath the staircase. With his one remaining hand he reached in and dragged out a box large enough to hold a standard-sized television.

It was half-filled with various items taken from Vultureís victims: rings, tee-shirts, panties, bracelets, watches, shoes, locks of hair, necklaces, books, earrings, chains, bras ... anything Vulture could have laid his hands on during each murder. "... Everything I takenís in here..."

"My God..." November gasped. So many things Ö so many lives taken. He plunged his hands into the box and began searching for anything that could have belonged to his friends.

He didnít notice Vultureís hand disappear into the cupboard and reappear with a second gun. "Look what I got for ya here, punk!"

"Why, Mr. Vulture, youíve forgotten completely about your Walther." November snatched up the gun and fired the clip dry. Vulture slumped to the ground with six bullet holes in a straight line going vertically up his body, each one spurting blood. One in his belly; two in his chest; one in his throat; one bullet had gone into his mouth, shattering his teeth and tearing a hole in the back of his neck; and a final bullet smacked right in the middle of Vultureís forehead. "So much for the single bullet theory..."

November searched the entire box for his friendsí possessions. His reward was a pittance: Laraís bracelet, Rockyís wristwatch, a ring belonging to Elizabeth, and a locket he had given to Nina on her sixteenth birthday.

Enraged, November turned his attention to the house and went on a rampage. He overturned every piece of furniture, smashed every object that was breakable, tore out every radiator, and shattered very window. Gas leaked from every busted line.

As he walked out of the front door, he set fire to a bundle of clothes and threw it back into the house.

The explosion was heard from halfway across town.

The blaze was so fierce, the fire crew decided to let it burn itself out ... when it had, there was little left to salvage bar a few scorched bricks and some heat-warped metal.

Nobody ever found out that it wasnít the fire that had killed Vulture.

 

The Crow

DARK ANGEL

PART FOUR
DESPAIR

HERE DWELLS A SNAKE, ONE THOUSAND MILES LONG
COILED, ONE THOUSAND MILES DEEP
EYES LIKE CANDY, IT HAS EYES LIKE CANDY
HARD AND BLUE, BUT SOFT AS KITTENS FEET
OUT OF SIGHT OR IN THE ELEMENT OF LIGHT
IT COULD BE A DEVIL, IT COULD BE AN ANGEL
WITH SPIDERS INSIDE A VISION FROM HELL
ITS SPINE IS A VERTICAL SCREAM
SLOW AS CONCRETE, BLURRED AS A DREAM
IT SPINS ROUND AND ROUND ON AN AXIS OF ATROCITY
FUELED BY INERTIA, DEPTH, RADIUS, AND VELOCITY,
ITS SOUL - A TWISTED WRECKAGE OF DESPAIR AND PAIN
AND THE SPIDERS INSIDE ARE JUST PRAYING FOR RAIN
KILLING TIME KILLING TIME
AND PRAYING FOR RAIN
ONE THOUSAND MILES DEEP

 

Chapter Ten

-Watching Forever-

ĎDonít want to close my eyes
I donít want to fall asleep
ĎCause Iíd miss you, baby
And I donít want to miss a thing

-Aerosmith, ĎI Donít Want To Miss A Thingí

* * * * *

Slowly, he trudged up the staircase towards the TV room, the crow following behind him. [Kid,] it says, [hey, kid ... you donít want to go in there.]

His body is there, but his mind is far away, watching as if this were a movie. He watched as his hand gave the battered door at the top a gentle push, it swings open unsteadily on its hinges but does not crash to the floor.

For the first time in three years, since that night, he stepped inside the room ... and all the memories immediately came flooding back, back into his ravaged mind; tears rolled down his cheeks like mountains springs. [This place hurts worst of all doesnít it,] the crow said, it wasnít a question - it knew the truth. [You were closest here, werenít you?]

STICK THE KNIFE IN

[Remember the smell of her hair?] His legs were now incapable of holding him up, so he fell to the floor, curled up in a foetal position and crying softly to himself. [Love and trust and innocence and respect...] the crow chanted in a sing-song way, [... forever and ever.]

He sat up, propped himself against the wall underneath the broken display case, and rocked himself back and forth. [Hurts more than words can say, doesnít it?]

DEEPER

[She used to hug you so hard your ribs hurt...] he wrapped his arms around himself. [You were the luckiest guy alive, werenít you, kid?] He buried his head between his knees. [Címon, kid ... donít do this,] the crow pleaded. The kid needed motivating, yes, but torturing himself would do no good.

He punched the display case, and a shower of broken glass rained down on him. [Remember the way the soft, morning sun would play across her white skin...] he drove the back of his head against the hard plaster wall, leaving a dent.

"... Shining off that golden hair," he continued for the crow. "Christ, she was so beautiful ... so sweet and kind. She was perfect..."

[Breathtaking.] Agreed the crow. [Remember the little notes sheíd leave you in your text books and under your desk?]

BREAK IT OFF

He nodded, and grinned through the tears, almost laughing in the way you do when youíre in so much pain you donít know whether to laugh or cry. "I remember sitting in class for ages, just staring across the room and watching her work and talk..." He grabbed the back of his head with both hands and squeezed his arms together, trapping his head in between.

TWIST IT

[Why do you do this to yourself?]

"I love thee with all the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life!" he recited, weeping out his heart. Browningís Sonnet XLIII had been Nina's favourite poem. "And if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death..."

* * * * *

Twenty doors up from the brothel, November entered a small store dealing mainly in DIY tools and accessories to buy a small hacksaw. "A little early for Halloween, isnít it?" The small man with the wispy beard behind the counter asked him in reference to his mask.

November replied in cryptic fashion. "Itís Halloween every day here."

"Amen to that." He exited the shop and turned a corner into an alleyway; behind a lead drainpipe rested a 20-guage pump-action shotgun. Using the hacksaw he cut off part of the barrel until the gun was short enough to fit in his trenchcoat without making too much of a conspicuous bulge.

On the way down the town, he stopped into a newsagent and bought the local newspaper, the front page headline read: CRIME LORD DIES IN BLAZE. According to the article, police believed Vulture had been killed when his house was completely destroyed by an explosion caused by a gas leak; the article also mentioned the other mysterious deaths of members of The Flock.

November couldnít stop himself from smirking.

"Hey, Mister!" A small voice, young and innocent, made him look up from the newspaper. He hadnít noticed it, but he had almost walked right past the brothel that had once been the Royal Seven Stars Hotel. The voice belonged to a small child that resembled a girl, no older than ten years old, who was sitting on the steps leading to the entrance. "Are you a clown?"

"Well I just might be." November replied, examining the girl with his eyes. She was as emaciated as she was dirty, the skin taught around her tiny face. Her blonde hair was tangled and matted, a garland of steel wool framing her face; she was wearing a hooped tee-shirt that she had probably out-grown two years previously and hadnít been washed in a month, a pair of faded blue jeans with the legs ripped off, and nothing else. Her left eye sported the unmistakable tint of blue and purple that is the trademark of a black eye. "May I sit with you for a moment, Princess?"

"Sure!" The girl beamed a grin from ear to ear, ecstatic for the attention. "Iím just waitiní for my Mum."

November sat on the step next to the girl. "Where might your mother be?"

"Ugly Patrick didnít have no medicine, so Ma went up to see Mr. Puppy." November felt that the girl had been told a half-truth, but he didnít tell her.

"Iím here for Skinny Puppy, too." He thrust his hands into the pockets of his coat. "Whatís your name, Little Angel?"

"Selina."

"Thatís a very pretty name." He complimented. "I knew a girl called Nina, once." He closed his eyes; sadness began to well up inside him. "Sheís gone to Heaven now, though."

Selinaís head bowed and she began toying with her naked toes. "Sometimes I think Iím bad aní God has sent me to Hell." Not for the first time in her life, Selina began to weep.

"This isnít Hell," November comforted, "but you can see it from here."

"How come it hurts so much, Mister?"

November nearly caved in to the sadness. "I really donít know..." His fingers brushed over something cold and metallic. "Hey! Iíve got a present for you!"

"Really!?" The grin returned to Selinaís face, dwarfing her previous effort. "What!? What!?"

"It was Ninaís, but I donít think she would mind if I gave it to you." He pulled the solid gold locket from his coat and slipped it around Selinaís neck.

"Holy cow!" Selina cried again, but these were not tears of sadness, they were tears of joy. "Geez, Mister. Nobody ever gave me nothiní before..."

November stared towards the entrance before he could begin crying. "Iíll go fetch your mother now, Honey."

"You cominí back, Mister? Please!"

"Weíll be together again, Selina, I promise." He slipped inside; he was angry, now. This town was no place for children.

He glided silently up the stairs towards the room he knew Skinny Puppy was in, the crow now on his shoulder. "Rise and shine, Skinny." He whispered. "Iíve got some serious gifts for you..."

He stood outside the door of Skinny Puppyís private room, listening to the sounds coming from inside: a man grunting in effort, a woman moaning in ecstasy, bedsprings squeaking, laughter.

November kicked the door open, and it slammed against the wall. He surveyed the scene: grimy walls with cracks and holes where plaster had fallen off; an uncarpeted floor, with various different stains in the wooden boards; a single wooden chair; a single bedside cabinet with a lamp, minus itís shade; a single double bed, clothes strewn beside it.

Two naked figures lay in the bed, a man laying on top of a woman. The man rolled off the woman and lay facing November. "Well hello there, Skinny Puppy!" November addressed the man.

"Who the Hell do you think you are you sonofa..."

"Shut your mouth, pain junkie!" November cut him off. "I havenít asked you anything, yet."

"Hey, if Raphael sent you to collect you can tell him from me..."

"Are the bones of your sins sharp enough to cut through your own excuses?" November strode towards the bed.

The hooker pulled the sheets up to her chin. "Pup, heís scariní me..."

"Man, youíd better turn around aní leave the way you came in," Skinny Puppyís hand moved towards the womanís pillow, "before somethiní real bad happens."

[Thereís a gun under his pillow.]

"Iíll kill you before you even touch that gun, Skinny!" November turned his head to the hooker. "Get dressed Miss Skin, before the space between us turns to tigers."

"Get out, Sandy!" Skinny Puppy ordered. "Iíll deal with this joker."

"Come here, girl." November place his right hand on the hookerís forehead.

"Iím scared..." she whimpered.

"Go from this place, Sandy, before he sucks all the light from your eyes." He stepped aside. "Selina is waiting. My friend here will escort you downstairs." The crow cawed.

Sandy dressed quickly and ran out of the door, the crow following her. November slammed the door shut and turned to face the man on the bed. "So, Skinny, do you have a pulse or are you a junkyard of meat and wire?" He pulled the chair across the room and sat astride it at the end of the bed. "What law of physics holds your atoms together?"

"Pal, there is something seriously wrong with you..." Skinny Puppy said through gritted teeth.

"Atrocity has that effect on me..."

Skinny Puppy laughed out loud. "Well big guy," he giggled, "Iím on a serious nod so if you got a problem with me I ainít gonna be much help ... do I even know you?"

November eyed the manís appearance. Tire marks and yellow eyes. Heís definitely a junkie, but his teeth arenít grey and his skinís clean ... probably morphine.

As if he had read Novemberís thoughts, Skinny Puppy sniggered: "Are you gonna lecture me or what?"

November arched an eyebrow. "And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon his horse, which the sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh..."

"Youíre that crazy ghost man that done in Sat aní Rave aní Sanchez, ainítcha? Heard Tom-Tom aní Vulture ainít sayiní much, neither." Skinny Puppy finally stopped sniggering. "Man, I was there when Choke shot you dead square in the neck aní then in the back of your head ... twice. Christ, the gun was so close your hair caught fire..."

"... And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God ... I saw the blood of Christ on their skins." November walked over to the bedside cabinet and opened the drawer. Inside were several needles and some vials of a white liquid; he read the labels. "Morphine."

"Oh, man!" Skinny Puppy whined. "Donít take my dope! Take the rock aní the money but not my dope!"

"You have three vials," November took a needle and a vial. "Iíll take one and leave you the rest..."

"Oh, what a kind soul you are..."

November grasped the lamp bulb in his left hand and crushed it, savouring the pain as the shards of glass pierced his skin. "The Bull Inn! Be there at midnight ... bring some friends, weíll have a party!" He turned and walked to the door. "... And Skinny Puppy, donít be happy ... worry."

 

Chapter Eleven

-Immolation-

On this cannon I mean to destroy myself
In a swirling of trees and soft air!

-Arthur Rimbaud, ĎBeing Beauteousí

* * * * *

November stood in front of the entrance to The Bull Inn, armed to the teeth: two revolvers, the sawn-off shotgun, three hand grenades, a fire axe, and his trusty samurai sword.

From his left coat pocket he produced the vial of Skinny Puppyís morphine and the hypodermic needle. The town clock began striking twelve, midnight, and November began to fill the hypodermic.

When the syringe was full, he buried the needle into his jugular vein and pushed the plunger down, forcing all the morphine into his bloodstream. The effects were almost immediate, all the pain he was feeling - mentally and physically - began to disappear.

The clock chimed for the twelfth and final time, and November opened the entrance door and stepped inside. "Can Skinny Puppy come out to play?"

There were nine other men inside the inn, Skinny Puppy, seven other Flock members, and a barman - who was the first to speak. "Well, what the Hell do you call that?"

November slammed the door shut. "Hey, boys," Skinny Puppy sniggered, "this hereís the guy throwiní the party." He raised a thick wooden baseball bat. "Ready for your Sunday school lesson, pal?"

"Of course. Iíve come to kneel and worship..." November raised his arms in mock crucifixion. "This is just another altar in the Church of Pain..."

"Kin you believe this guy?" One of the men -- an old school companion of Novemberís --asked his companions with stark disbelief. "Heís gotta be jokiní!"

Another man drew his pistol. "Want me to cap Ďim now, Skin?"

"Naw, let him ramble on for a minute-or-so." Taking this as a cue, November climbed onto the bar and began to recite.

"Seven blackbirds in a tree, count them and see what they be ... one for sorrow, two for joy..." Drinks crashed to the floor as November walked along the bar, sing-songing the old rhyme. "Three for a girl, four for a boy. Five for silver, six for gold." He stared into Skinny Puppyís eyes. "Seven for a secret thatís never been told. Youíre all going to die, now..."

The barman pulled a shotgun from below the bar. "Iíll put a stop to this real quick, Skin..."

"Oh, barkeep," November called, "hold onto this for me until I ask for it, will you?" There was a flash of steel, a swoosh, and the barman fell to the floor with the fire axe lodged deep in his right shoulder. "Why, thankyou, sir."

"Take him out!" Skinny Puppy ordered, and the other men skinned their pistols.

"Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me." November drew his own weapons, the two pistols, and held one in each hand, John Woo style. "The carriage held but just ourselves - and immortality." He pulled back the hammers. "Okay, boys, letís do it."

A volley of bullets hit November square in the torso, and he returned with two shots of his own. Two thugs hit the floor, clutching head wounds, and a third quickly followed. "Weíre not done playing yet, are we?" November mocked, shooting a forth dead.

Despite his accuracy, he was being hit a lot more than his adversaries. Skinny Puppy, however, still wasnít satisfied. "Heís gotta be weariní a vest!" he barked. "Somebody get a head shot in!"

November jammed both guns in the face of his old school companion and fired twice. "Damn!" Somebody yelled. "TJ just got one square!"

Chaos reigned.

"Canít somebody get a head shot in!?"

"Goddamn!" Another man shouted. "He ainít missed once!"

A stray bullet hit November above his left eye, blood poured temporarily. "So," Skinny Puppy grinned, "the ghost does bleed after all! Martyrdom is now the price of salvation."

November fired his guns dry and pulled the shotgun. "Death, like virtue, has its degrees..." He unloaded a round of buckshot into another head. "... And he was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood." The Flock members fell like ducks in a shooting gallery.

Six shots and one swing of the sword later, it was all over; the sacrifice was complete. "It appears, Skinny, that the party has ended..."

Skinny Puppy slumped, defeated, into a chair. "Not weariní a vest are you, Casper?" November didnít need to answer. "Donít matter, no ways, I done what I done and I ainít sorry. Man, I done worse!" He grinned. "Killed this whole family downtown when daddy pimped me on a kee ... tell ya this, pal: she was real hot, your girl ... even with half her head blowed off ... she was your girl I did, right?"

November nodded.

Skinny Puppy cackled. "Didnít bother me none, either, doiní her like that..."

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process they do not become monsters themselves." November sheathed the samurai sword. Nietzche was a smart man. His words were ringing true of November, for heíd begun to slip into the realm of the monsters. None of the men lying lifeless in the bar had to die. It had to end soon, before more innocent men -- no matter what their associations -- died. "Skinny Puppy, go and find Choke, Iím eager to be done with this..."

Skinny Puppy stood and walked to the door. "Go, Skinny," November growled, "go and fetch Choke. You know where to meet me?"

"The school? The old canteen?"

"Yes, the room above the canteen, you remember. Go ... and donít make me come after you - I will hurt you ... a lot ... and slowly."

"I donít have nowhere to run, not from you, anyways." The junkie stared at his feet. "Youíre gonna kill me there ainítcha?"

"You died the moment you touched those girls."

"Promise youíll make it quick aní clean."

"Yes, for you I promise. Not Choke ... one hour, no longer."

"Iím a junkie, but I ainít no Judas." Skinny Puppy pulled the door open and walked out. "Weíll be there!"

"You tell Choke that Death is coming for him, Skinny Puppy!" November yelled. "You tell him Iím coming ... and Hellís coming with me!"

He sat motionless for twenty minutes, wallowing in sadness. He produced three olive green orbs from his coat and stared at them for a few minutes. As November slowly began walking towards the exit, he pulled the pins from the grenades and tossed them behind the bar.

They exploded, gutting the inn, less than three seconds after November strolled out.

* * * * *

He sat alone in the canteen again, awaiting The Flock, with the photographs spread out in front of him, and a folding razor in his left hand.

"God, you bastard." He sobbed. "How could you do that to her? How could you make something so soft and innocent ... and then destroy it?" He unfolded the razor. "How could you do that? How could you make her suffer like that? You bastard!"

He brought the point of the razor blade down until it was touching the inside his forearm just below the elbow. A small dark blister of blood formed, and the blade slid into this blister.

He began sliding the blade down his arm, and the skin drew back either side of the cut. He savoured the pain once again.

A figure, an apparition, appeared in front of him. A young woman ... with a gold locket around her neck. She was sat on the hard, cold, concrete floor by the old jukebox, trying to put a broken stool back together. "Fuck these things!" She cursed, struggling to push the legs back into their housings. "Followed the instructions perfectly ... shit, these things never work for me."

A second figure appeared by the entrance, an identical copy of himself, but its appearance did not stop him slicing into his arms, elbows to wrists. Inside his arms, tendons shined like prime cuts of flank steak. Blood ran in freshets, and the walls were splattered by a fine scarlet spray every time an artery or a vein was severed. White bone grinned at the bottom of the cut before disappearing beneath the crimson tide.

Not noticing his doppelganger in the entrance, Nina continued to struggle with the stool. "Owen can fix this. Heís so good at this kind of stuff." She glanced up and noticed his doppelganger. "Owen! I didnít hear..."

"Ssshhh."

"Owen, whatís wrong?" Nina set the stool aside. "Are you okay?"

"Nothingís wrong. I just want to look at you."

"Are you sure youíre okay?"

"God, youíre so beautiful."

"Owen!"

"Nina, I love you so much it hurts my heart when youíre away."

"Owen, I think about you every minute of the day, too." He began slashing at his arms in a random fashion, drawing red criss-cross patterns in his own flesh.

Nina stood and walked towards his mirror image. "I love you so much it scares me."

"Weíre something, huh?" They hugged.

"Yep." They kissed.

He drew back and hurled the razor at the apparitions, and they disappeared moments before the razor passed through the space they had occupied.

As his arms performed their healing trick, he stood up and kicked the table over, spilling the photographs to the floor. "You bastard!" He screamed at the top of his voice. "You frigging bastard!"

 

Chapter Twelve

-Head Trauma-

Portrayal of traumas and degeneration
The sorrows we suffered
And never were freed
Where have they been?

-Joy Division, ĎDecadesí

* * * * *

Peter J. Hook slowly slid apart the synthetic curtain and stepped in, standing next to Owenís bed.

He looked solemnly at the figure laying rigid on the bed, bandages covering his head, neck, and shoulders. Hook was reminded of the mummies portrayed in old cartoons.

Owenís eyes were wide open and staring straight up, but not focusing on anything they found there.

"ĎLo, Owen, nice to meet you." Hook said, totally certain that the figure couldnít hear him. "Iím Captain Hook," he laughed falsely, "Doc says Iíve got about two minutes before you go back into surgery.

"Gotta tell you it doesnít look good, son. But in a way, you were lucky: none of those shots hit anything vital." The policeman shook his head. "Doc says you were DOA ... brain dead. They got a heartbeat back, but ... ugh ... your house doesnít have an attic, so to speak ... itís a miracle you didnít choke to death from that throat shot.

"Really, I just wanted to see your face and say Iím sorry ... Iím sorry you and your friends suffered like that, and your girl." He clenched his fists and added: "At least you didnít have to see it.

"I donít know why things like this happen. Makes me sick to be human." Hook slipped an office card between two of Owenís toes. "Hereís my card, Owen. Give me a ring and weíll have coffee sometime." Hook drew apart the curtains and began to step through them. "Hope you had a good life, son. Sorry."

A voice, weak, muffled, and barely human, filtered through the bandages. "The crow..."

"What!?" Hook spun round. "What did you say!?"

"The crow ... the crow said donít look!"

* * * * *

The PA system was, as usual, alive with dozens of messages. The latest one was asking a ĎDoctor Rasheedí to Ďreport to nurseís station fiveí.

"Someone shut that Goddamn PA off..." snapped a male surgeon. "Nurse, explorer ... no, the three-ten. Thank you."

"Oh, Jesus," another surgeon gasped. "Look at this!"

"He wonít be playing tennis anymore..." a third cracked.

No one laughed.

"Four thousand comedians out of work and youíre auditioning in the OR?" Surgeon #2 commented.

"Knock off the chatter," the first surgeon ordered, clearly a no-nonsense kind of man, "this manís in serious trouble."

"Way past trouble - you could lay bricks on his ECG." The third said, but this time it wasnít a joke.

"Who died aní left you God?"

"Christ," the first again, "whereís the other chunk of that vertebrae?"

"Mustíve blown clear..." Surgeon #2 mumbled.

"Bullshit, the exit wound isnít large enough..."

"Here it is!" Surgeon #2 was quite relieved. "Iíve got it!"

"So," the third one began, "this is like an exercise, right?"

"Okay, nurse." The no-nonsense surgeon cleared. "Itís clean, lets see what we can do with the third and fourth vertebrae."

"Whatís his flip side look like?" #2 asked.

"Nasty ... bullet impact to his left temple region, shattered his skull but didnít breach. Second shot entered right around ... here. Went clean through, missed his brain and exited through the right cheek."

The third surgeon even managed to joke about that. "Lucky guy ... Halloweenís right around the corner..."

"Har har."

A high-pitched, constant wail emitted from the heart monitor. "Hey! Hey! Weíre losing him! Weíre losing him!"

[Kid ... hey kid...] a coarse, harsh voice filled Owenís head. [Itís me...]

"Heartbeat!? Heartbeat!?"

[What the Hell are you doing, kid?] The crow asked. [What kind of stunt is this? Letís get out of here.]

"Heís gone."

[You have responsibilities, junior.]

"Okay, shut it down."

"Anyone save a prayer?"

"Next of kin?"

"Both parents deceased, no siblings ... girlfriendís in the next room, though."

"Hysterical?"

"DOA."

"Wonderful."

 

The Crow

DARK ANGEL

PART FIVE

DEATH

ITíS NOT DEATH IF YOU REFUSE IT...

IT IS IF YOU ACCEPT IT.

 

Chapter Thirteen

-The atrocity exhibition: three years ago-

"The hand is no different from what it creates."

-AA Attanasio

* * * * *

"What do you say, Joe, you in or out?" Rocky asked, holding his cards close to his chest.

"Yeah, okay," Joey knocked back a shot of whiskey, "I call." They were crowded around a single table, trying their best to play a round of strip poker while drinking beer, whiskey, cider, and tequila.

The game was at an advanced stage: Joey was down to his shirt and jeans, Owen was missing a sweater and wristwatch, Rocky had only lost his shirt, although that was soon to change. And the girls...

Well, the girls were not exactly skilled players ... Rocky had turned to Owen now.

"Well, letís have a lookie here..." Owen snatched up a sheet of paper detailing the wagers. He raised an eyebrow. "Well, Rock! Shoes, socks, and jeans, must be a peach of a hand..."

"Címon, Owen." Rocky complained. "You in or out?"

Owen mimicked Val Kilmerís Doc Halliday from the film Tombstone. "I suppose Iím deranged..." he downed a slug of beer, "but I guess Iíll have to call..." He laid his cards face-up on the table.

A Royal Flush.

"Isnít that a daisy..." He drawled. "Okay, letís have another look here..." Owen scanned the list, raising his eyebrow every few seconds. "Rock, you know what you owe ... Lara and Liz..." Two eyebrows went up this time. "Tops and skirts ... nice! Aaannd," he made the word last fully ten seconds, "Nina aní Joey... youíre out, Iím afraid. Do you want a little music? I think weíve got Hot Chocolate stashed away somewhere!"

A ripple of laughter reverberated spread through the group, including Nina and Joey. Owen and Rocky sang the first few lines of ĎI Believe in Miraclesí.

Nobody heard a car pull up outside the canteen and a group of men step out. "Whoís got the pipe?" One of the men moaned.

"Pup, you got the pipe?" Another asked.

"Yo!" Skinny Puppy saluted. "Yo, man, yo!"

"Shaddup!"

"You done that whole rock!?"

"Yo!"

The occupants of the TV room only noticed the menís presence when the windows of the downstairs door shattered inwards. A mad scramble erupted as the six poker players rushed to find their clothes.

Six pairs of booted feet started clomping up the stairs.

CLOMP-CLOMP!

CLOMP-CLOMP!

"Shit, theyíre coming up!" Lara whispered.

"Itíll be okay, Honey." Joey comforted her.

WHAM!

The door slammed open, nearly tearing off its hinges, and in stepped Raven, Vulture, Choke, Skinny Puppy, Saturn, and Tom-Tom. "What up, dogs?" Saturn asked.

"Hey," Choke stepped forward. "Can we join your little party?"

"Sorry guys," Owen stepped in front of Choke, shielding the others from him. "We just wanna keep it to just us six, no more."

"You sure?"

"Weíre sure." Rocky and Joey stood either side of Owen.

"Címon, bud," Choke almost pleaded, "we just wanna party with you guys."

"Yeah, party..." Raven seconded.

"Well, maybe the girlies have different opinions..." Choke leered at Elizabeth, Lara, and Nina. Owen stepped in his way.

"Címon, guys. Give us a break."

Choke suddenly turned nasty. "Is you begginí? I oughta take you down jusí fer that!" His hand slid behind his back. "Whatícho got ta say fer youself?"

"I think you should leave."

"Hey, boys." Choke grinned. "Why donítcha go see if the little womeníll be a bit nicer." The girls backed into the far end of the room.

"Hey, Tom-Tom," Saturn sniggered, "they donít like us!"

"No taste whatsoever." The five thugs pushed past Rocky and Joey and surrounded the girls, who began to scream.

"Get away from them!" Owen ordered.

Skinny Puppy groped Ninaís breasts, while Saturn stuck his hand between her legs, inside her G-string. Owen flew into a rage, landing a hard punch right on Saturnís jaw. "Get away from her!"

"Hey, boy. Eat this." Choke skinned his gun, just as Owen spun around to face him.

BOOM!

A bullet zipped across the room and hit Owen in the throat, his hands instinctively clasped around it, blood seeping through his fingers. He fell to his knees, gagging. The girls began to scream even louder.

BOOM! Another shot hit him in the back of the head, but he didnít fall. "Well, well." Choke taunted, standing behind Owen. "This boy sure does have a thick head."

He raised the gun to the back of Owenís head. "Any parting words for your pretty little friend, people?"

"Yo, Choke!" Skinny Puppy said, tearing off the girlsí undergarments and wrapping his arm around Ninaís hips. "Go on aní do Ďim!"

"Please..." Nina whimpered, crying her eyes out. The others were frozen in shock and terror.

"Thatís the best you can do?" he mocked. "For shame..."

Owen stared backwards, past Choke, and focused on a big, black crow. [Kid...] It said. [Hey, kid ... itís okay.]

BOOM!

Owen fell to the floor, his face resting in a pool of blood spreading from his face and his head. He knew he had to be dead, but he could still see, and he could still hear. "Look, Choke," Vulture laughed, "his hairís on fire."

The crow was standing next to him.

Choke reloaded his gun. "One hot individual."

Owen watched in horror as The Flock emptied their guns into Joey as he ran for the door, and then executed Rocky with a single bullet to the head.

"Hey, Choke." Raven called, unzipping his jeans. "Quit messiní with the dead guys aní letís do the broads."

The Flock took turns in raping each one; one man pinning the girl down, a second raping her. "Man, make Ďem stop that screaminí!" Tom-Tom yelled.

"Owen, please no you canít be..!" Nina sobbed and begged. "Please God, no, no, no!" Lara and Elizabeth were equally upset.

"Shut Ďem up, I canít stand that!"

Choke bellowed to his associates. "Awright, guys. Youíre time is up!"

"God, no, please God, no!"

"Shut Ďem up!" Tom-Tom yelled, pushing Vulture off of Nina.

"Your time up, dammit!"

Tom-Tom clamped his hand over Ninaís mouth. "Shut up, bitch!" She bit his fingers, drawing blood. "Ow, Jesus!"

The crow kept on talking to Owen. [Itís not your fault, kid. You donít need to do this...] Saturn lay between Ninaís legs, grunting as he entered her. [Donít look, kid. Donít look!]

Nina continued to scream. "This broadís screaminí is makiní me crazy!" Tom-Tom growled, wiping his bloody hand on a discarded bra.

"Jesus, Tom-Tom," Raven said, raping Lara, "shut her up then, fer Christís sake!" Raven clamped his mouth over Laraís left nipple and bit clean through it, Lara shrieked in agony.

[Youíre looking, kid!]

"Get up, Sat." Tom-Tom pulled Saturn off of Nina. "Iím gonna stomp that bitch!" He brought his foot down hard on Ninaís face, breaking her nose with a sharp, wet crunch - the sound of a dozens pairs of knuckled cracking. "Shut you fuckiní mouth, bitch!"

He brought his foot down again, Nina continued to scream.

SKRUNCH!

CRUNCH!

Nina, blood smeared over her face and body, kept screaming, as did Lara and Elizabeth, even though they knew they would be next.

SKRUNCH!

CRUNCH!

Nina, close to unconsciousness, did not stop screaming.

"Get outta the way, Tom-Tom." Choke pushed Tom-Tom across the room. Owen watched as Choke aimed his gun and fired once into Ninaís head, it burst like a punctured water balloon.

Nina fell silent.

SPLAK!

Ninaís blood splashed onto Tom-Tomís boots. "Goddamn it, Choke! You got blood on my Martens."

"You got a problem with that, Tom?" He fired a second time, and moved along the line, shooting each girl twice in the head.

At last, there was silence.

"Awright!" Skinny Puppy unzipped his jeans and knelt between Ninaís legs. "My turn, now."

"Pup, half her head gone!"

"I donít want her head, man..." He grunted, entering her. "Oh, yeah! Thatís the stuff! Come on in - the pussyís fine!"

"You sick, pal."

"Vulture, you get your stuff?"

Vulture ripped a blood-covered locket from around Ninaís neck as Skinny Puppy began to thrust his hips. "Yeah, I got it all. Shall we torch the place?"

"Naw, letís jump this train." Saturn prodded Skinny Puppy with the toe of his boot. "Címon, Skin."

"Hey, gimme a minute, will ya?" He shook Ninaís lifeless body like a rag doll, blood and brains splattered everywhere. "She ainít exactly responsive, ya know?" The other five stomped down the stairs and drove off ... and a downpour commenced. "Hey, come on! Wait up, Goddammit!"

Skinny Puppy withdrew from Nina and trudged down the stairs, out of Owenís sight.

[Itís over now, kid. Itís over...]

Skinny Puppy stepped outside into the downpour. "Make me walk alla way back," he grunted, "... pouriní frigginí rain..." He pulled a joint from his coat pocket and lit it. "Wait till Saturn finds out I got all the rock!"

 

Chapter Fourteen

-Revenge-

Jesus wept.

-John 11:35

* * * * *

Selina lived in one of the most run-down flats in one of the most run-down areas of Totnes.

It took some effort to earn that distinction, and the place Selina and her mother called home was certainly more than up to the task. To call this place a fetid Hell-hole would have elevated it fully twelve notches.

In Selinaís bedroom, wallpaper hung in shreds from crumbling brick walls, the bare floorboards were unvarnished and splintered. A single wall heater farted its inadequate warmth into the cold room, the windows were spiderwebbed with cracks, the sills were rotting, and the single source of light came from a dirt-encrusted lightbulb.

If that was at all possible, Selinaís possessions were even more pitiful than her bedroom. She slept on an old mattress covered with rips and tears; a single blanket for cover; and an old pillow with most of the stuffing gone AWOL.

For entertainment, she had a single, manky teddy bear; a copy of Dr. Seussí Cat in the Hat, with three pages missing; and a Barbie, minus an arm.

Litter was spread over the floor: used tissue paper, empty soft drink bottles, paper plates, napkins, pizza boxes ... it was a housekeeperís nightmare.

Selina was asleep on her mattress when November arrived at a quarter-to-one. She was still wearing her hooped tee-shirt and torn-off jeans, and, on closer inspection of her home, November found that that was the only clothing Selina had.

The locket was enclosed in her left hand, the chain around her neck. November wiped a tear from his eye with his sleeve, before gently shaking Selina awake. "Hello, Selina."

"Mr. Clown!" Selina grinned. "You came back, just like you said!"

"Just like I promised." November corrected.

Selina wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him hard, and he hugged back. "I missed you so much..."

They both wept. "ĎM-missed you, too, Princess..."

"Youíre goiní away for good this time, arenít you?"

"Yes, Iíve got some affairs to put in order and then Iím going to be with Nina."

This shocked Selina greatly. "But you said she was..."

"Yes, but itís where I belong."

He wiped the tears from her eyes. "I donít unnerstand," she sniffed, "but I know you loved her a whole lot."

"More than words can say, Princess."

"ĎGuess you should go then..." she closed her eyes and bowed her head. "Even if it does make my heart hurt." This was not a last-ditch attempt to make him stay; it was the plain truth. It reminded November of the apparitions.

"Iím sorry ... Iím sorry for everything that has happened to you..." His mind slipped back to the hospital and Captain Hook. At least you didnít have to see it. Hook had said, this time it was more apt. "... And for everything that is going to happen to you.

"Please, donít be afraid, Selina ... someday all things will be fair and there will be wonderful surprises. I truly do believe this." November knelt down and kissed her on the forehead, leaving a midnight-black lipstick mark. "Goodbye, Princess."

He held her hand and squeezed it. "See you in Heaven, doll." November climbed out of the bedroom window and dropped four storeys to the ground.

"ĎBye, Mr. Clown!" Selina shouted out of the window after him. "ĎLove you!"

* * * * *

"Iím telliní ya, Choke," Skinny Puppy protested, "he killed everyone in the place aní torched it - blew it all to Hell!"

"Youíre noddiní, man." The new leader of The Flock brushed off the junkieís comments.

"Damn straight Iím on a nod after what I see!" Skinny Puppy countered.

"So, this is some guy I smoked three years ago, cominí back for revenge?" Choke wasnít believing any of this.

"You remember that old school canteen we was síposed to torch but them six kids was there..? We was all stoned on rock."

"Somebody sold you some bad dope there, Pup."

"Whatever you say, Choke."

"Listen ta yourself, man!" Choke stood up, sending his chair flying. "You come over here, talkiní shit, bringing me down! Junk has done ate up your head, boy!"

"I told him weíd meet him there," Skinny Puppy was determined to finish, "but it donít matter. He knows, man. He knows." November did indeed know. In the roomís single dingy window, the crow observed, unseen by the roomís occupants.

"You used to be pretty smart ... now you just make me sick ... you junkies are pathetic." Choke spat out the insult, pointing to the door. "Get out of here, Pup. Now."

"Okay if I hook up, first?"

"Jesus Christ! Youíre Ďbout to fall over now!" Choke shook his head and relented. "In the kitchen, outta my sight. Aní on ya way, tell Big Moby to take a few of the guys and check out your ghost manís hidey-hole."

A few minutes later, Skinny Puppy was sitting at the kitchen table, had filled a hypodermic with morphine, and wrapped a tourniquet around his left bicep.

"Skinny Puppy." A familiar voice whispered in through the window.

Novemberís ghostly white face leant in and he lifted a finger to its lips. "Man, I told Ďem." Skinny Puppy stood up. "You heard ... they wonít listen, I done what I could."

"I know." November slipped in through the window and walked up to Skinny Puppy. "Sit, please. I promised you a painless death. It is time."

"Wouldnít do no good for me to yell for Choke aní them guys, would it?"

"What do you think?"

Skinny Puppy bowed his head and twiddled his fingers. "Listen, I canít say why I done the shit I done ... I wish I could say I was sorry but I ainít. Iím a monster burniní up from the inside..." He began to recite in a manner akin to November. "Obedience is a submission veiled with gravity. I never let nothiní define or limit me."

"Skinny Puppy, I cannot give you absolution ... in a few moments your sins will be between God and you. Have you read Milton?"

"Ugh-huh."

"Lethe?"

"Yeah, I understand."

November produced three vials of morphine from his left coat pocket and handed two of them to Skinny Puppy. "Here is your morphine, Puppy. Do it. All of it ... now."

"Thank you, ghost man..." He pumped two hypodermics filled with morphine into his arm. "Perhaps Iíll see you in Hell..."

November filled two hypodermics of his own from his vial of morphine. "Your crime was the most important because it was committed in cold blood. It was the act of a soul which having destroyed itself has accumulated immense strength ... it knows its own dark secret..." He drove the needles into his own chest. "... And this can be completely identified with the acts of total destruction soon to come ... you were dead from day one." November pushed the plungers down, emptying the hypodermics.

"Man, thatís a whole CC of medical-grade morph you jusí pumped into your heart!" Skinny Puppy yelped. That was more than enough to kill a normal man twice over Ö but he knew very well that November was no normal man.

"We do not recognise our souls until they are in pain..."

Skinny Puppy grunted, tightening the tourniquet, and finished the last of the morphine. "Spoken like a true Angel of Death..."

"The divine is no less paradoxical than the vicious." Within seconds, a milky-white fluid began to seep from Skinny Puppyís mouth, and his eyes had glassed over.

"Iíll give your regards to Lucifer, ghost man ... aní do me a favour ... when you get to Choke ... kill that bastard slow." With that, he went limp, and his head slammed onto the kitchen table with a bang. November dived out of the kitchen window.

I KNOW WHY JESUS WEPT, MOTHERFUCKER

"Yo! Skin, you almost be done, man?" Shelby the Giant called. When no answer came, he turned to Choke. "Probably checked a nod on the kitchen table..."

"Well then somebody wake that junkie shithead up..!"

* * * * *

When November returned to the canteen, he heard voices coming from the TV room.

"Stupid!" One voice cursed. "This guy síposed to have put down eight dudes in The Bull ... wicked dudes that donít die so easy ... this just be plain old stupid, man. I got an old lady aní a kid fer Christís sake!"

November listened. The puppies were scratching at the door if the girlsí lavatory and the men were upstairs. There was nothing else to be heard.

"Jusí shut up, TT. Choke said we hang case he show again."

November silently crept up the stairs and pulled the sawn-off from his coat. "Huh, fool ainít gonna come back here..." a third voice, Big Mobyís, muttered. "... Be a sure ride in a big black car..."

November pressed the barrel of the shotgun against the door. The buckshot tore a hole in the door and Big Mobyís head.

BOOM! A second man took a shot in the chest.

BOOM! A third in the neck.

BOOM! A forth man took the full impact in the face.

There was only one man left ... the man with the wife and child. "Whatís your name, son?" November asked.

"Two-Tone..." The man murmured.

"Do you want to live, Two-Tone?"

"I ... I..." He dropped his gun. "Yes ... I want to live..."

"Iíve already taken my ride in the big black car. Do you see my smile in my words, sad and evil? Sad because I am utterly alone. Evil because I am dead yet I live. Can you hear me? A dead man visits you."

"Please mister, donít kill me ... donít kill me..."

November slowly descended down the stairs. "Leave here, Two-Tone. Take your family and leave this town, donít come back." He released the puppies from their lavatory prison. Two-Tone ran down the stairs, past November, and out of the door, and November called after him. "Have a nice life, son!"

* * * * *

Here, November cursed with the word. Here is where it all began ... and this is the beginning of the end.

Fred and Barney sat in front of him, offering their paws. "Time for me to go, boys."

He gathered his guns and ammunition together, memories from the past clouding his mind. He remembered a date with Nina one Christmas Eve, while they were hugging under the branches of a big oak tree. "Owen, I feel so safe when Iím with you." Nina had said.

"Iíd never let anything happen to you, Nina ... I promise." That had been one promise heíd failed to keep.

He remembered the words the crow had said. ĎItís not your fault, kid.í

"I promise..." November whispered.

He finished reloading, stashing guns and ammunition wherever he could: pockets, holsters, belts, he taped some to his body.

He walked to the school storeroom and returned with several large canisters and a barrel of petrol. All of the canisters were marked: DANGER! EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE!

He set down the barrel in the middle of the canteen and emptied the canisters around the canteen and the TV room, over tables and chairs, on the floor, up the stairs, in the toilets.

November taped the five yearbook photographs to the barrel, made three holes in the barrel, and walked out. He attached leashes to the puppies' collars and tied them to a wall opposite the canteen, slipping two cards into the collars in the process.

Turning around, November raised the shotgun and fired at the petrol barrel. It exploded in a ball of fire, which spread along the flammable liquid trail.

* * * * *

At the bottom of the town, November sighted his next target standing by a signpost. "Hey, Ugly Patrick..." He called, sneaking up behind him with the crow on his shoulder. "I think you had better start thinking about the other side of eternity..."

"Wha..?" Ugly Patrick spun around. "You the dude with Chokeís package?"

"No." November raised his hands high above his head, as if he were stretching away the effects of fatigue. "I am he who can dissolve the terror of being a man and going among the dead. I am morphine for a wooden leg."

Ugly Patrick pulled a gun on him. "Whatever you say, Herman..."

The gun fired twice.

The bullets passed through Novemberís chest and exited from his back.

[Chemical monster,] the crow muttered. [Put him down, kid.]

"What the fu..!? ... Two..?" Ugly Patrick began to back off as November continued to tread his ominous path towards him.

November drew a knife from his back pocket, swung it once, and re-pocketed it.

[Amazing that God would waste skin on trash like that.] The crow reflected.

November walked away, leaving Ugly Patrick kneeling in the street, blood gushing forth from his mouth and a deep, gaping cut across his throat.

* * * * *

The heat from the fire was so intense Sergeant Hook couldnít get within fifteen feet of the canteen.

"Captain Hook?" Davies called, and Hook turned, rolling his eyes, to find the rookie holding two puppies by their leads. "We found these dogs by a wall watching the place go down..."

"Yeah, so? Pretty much all weíre doing." He indicated the motionless fire crew.

"Well, Sir, thereís a note addressed to you."

"But I hate dogs."

"Sir," Davies pleaded, "theyíre bitiní the crap outta my legs."

Reluctantly, Hook accepted the strange gifts and read the note. It read:

 

MR. HOOK,

PLEASE TAKE CARE OF MY PUPPIES. THEY WILL BRING YOU GOOD LUCK. THE SPANIELíS NAME IS FRED, AND THE COLLIE IS CALLED BARNEY - LIKE ĎTHE FLINTSTONESí, HA HA! MAKE SURE THEY HAVE A NICE LIFE.

GIVE ME A RING, WEíLL HAVE COFFEE SOMETIME.

The Crow

PS THEY BOTH NEED FLEA COLLARS.

 

"Shit..." Hook muttered as he began walking his new best friends over to his car. "I hate dogs..."

Davies watched as Hook drove off, before deciding he might as well leave as well. But, unlike the Sergeant, his work tonight wasnít finished. A fireman called to him above the roar of the blaze. "Calliní it a night, Davies?"

"Huh?" Davies looked up from the note he had been left. "Oh, naw, Henry ... I, ugh, just got some things to check into ... see you at the bowliní alley Friday."

"Sure thing." Davies read the note again.

 

OFFICER DAVIES,

THERE IS A LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES IN FLAT 26 OVER IN CULVERDALE FLATS. PLEASE MAKE SURE SHE IS LOOKED AFTER - I HAVE DELIVERED £4,985 TO YOUR LOCKER IN THE POLICE STATION TO GO TOWARDS THE CAUSE. I HAVE ENCLOSED MY CASHPOINT CARD (PIN: 7895) AS WELL, USE THE MONEY YOU WILL FIND IN MY ACCOUNT AT LLOYDS BANK.

SHE IS SO FULL OF LOVE IT WILL BREAK YOUR HEART TO SEE HER THERE. HER NAME IS SELINA.

The Crow

PS JUST TELL HER THAT "MR. CLOWN" SENT YOU - SHE WILL UNDERSTAND.

 

A single tear rolled down Daviesí cheek and dropped onto the note, smudging the ink in the signature.

* * * * *

The few remaining members of The Flock were assembled in the market square, waiting for their new leader, he did not disappoint. "Hey, guys," one man called, "here comes Choke aní Shelby the Giant!"

As the car rolled to a stop, the man walked over to the driverís window. "Whatís up, Choke?"

"So, Dee, how many guys did you come up with?" Choke asked, winding the window completely open.

"Les see ... Marky T, Jimmy Zulu, Kuma, Squib, Hercules, all the beaners Ďcept for ... Sanchez ... about fifteen other guys ... Ďmost everybody was up The Bull or the school ... aní there ainít nobody cominí outta there standiní up ... what goiní down, Choke? ĎBout twenty of yer best in zipper bags, man."

Choke raised an eyebrow. "You gettiní smart, Dee?"

Dee drew back, more cautious to what he said. "No, man, no ... jusí curious, thatís all..."

"Well, Skinny Puppy say we be on a ghost hunt..." He shook his head angrily. "ĎCourse, he wrecked on the Happy Flower Ďbout an hour ago, so it donít count for shit. Everyone carryiní?"

"Need you ask?" Dee acknowledged the man in the passenger seat. "How you doiní, Shelby?"

The Giant raised his right hand - it was heavily bandaged and only the middle finger was still present, which he duly raised to Dee. "Whatís it look like, asshole?"

Dee grimaced. "Oh, shit. Sorry Shelby, man ... we gonna get this dude," he spat on the ground. "Ghost my black ass."

"ĎS okay, Dee, you guys hang until something comes down. Be cool."

"Gotícha, Shelby."

Dee rejoined the rest of The Flock, who were gathered in the middle of the road by the remnants of the old burnt-out Woolworths store. Shelby turned to face Choke. "You believe in any aí that ghost crap, man?"

"I believe in dope, guns, and girls." Choke said, removing a cigarette from a pack. "Push the lighter in, will ya?"

Twenty minutes passed without incident, and Shelby was in the middle of telling a joke. "... So the bitch, she says..."

"I heard this one, man."

"Lemme finish ... so the bitch, she says..."

"Hit the lighter again."

"The bitch says to this guy, ĎI thought you...í"

THIP.

THIP.

Faint sounds, like raindrops, came from the roof of the car. "Hey, Shelby, you hear somethiní?"

Shelby shrugged. "Rain probably ... so, anyway, this hooker, she says, ĎI thought you...í" Shelby sniggered. "Ď... I thought you...í"

CHAK-CHAK.

There was no mistaking that sound. "Umm ... Shelby..."

BOOM!

The roof of the car exploded downward above Shelbyís head, shattering the passenger-side window. When Choke turned to look, the top half of Shelbyís head had completely disappeared. "Shelby?"

A smoking 20-guage shotgun dropped in through the hole. "Jesusohjesusohjesus!" Choke began to panic. "Gotta get the blood off the window ... gotta get the blood off ... wipers! Gotta turn the wipers on!" Choke flipped the switch and the wipers obeyed his command, but the blood remained on the window.

"Choke, you idiot..." a voice, cold and mocking, said, causing Choke to look up. November was sat cross-legged on the roof, staring down at him through the hole. "The blood is inside ... inside the car ... inside your head ... for the moment." November stood and began to walk down the bonnet of the car. "Get out of the car, bastard. I want you to see this ... Iím going to kill all your foot soldiers."

He leapt from the car and slowly walked towards the crowd of approaching men. "I think this is our guy..." Dee said. "Aní heís packiní"

"Gentlemen," Novemberís powerful voice boomed out ahead of him to meet them, "donít you know enough to go in out of the rain?" November had had the opportunity to count the number of his adversaries: twenty-eight men (carrying more than twenty-eight guns ... but that was a minor concern), or, more accurately, twenty-eight corpses-to-be.

"Man, it ainít raininí," one man replied, his voice laden with heavy tension.

"Are you blind!?" November roared, causing several of the men to flinch. "Itís raining blood!" He mocked them all with a burst of seemingly uncontrollable, insane laughter. "But I digress," he said, stopping the laughter dead. "A sick thirst darkens my veins. There is a clock that never strikes."

Several of the closest men to him already had their guns trained on him, ready to fire, but November was not bothered by them. "Come on, do it," he calmly dared, spreading his arms wide as if to hug these doomed men. "Shoot, now."

The Flock was stunned. This weird stranger appears out of nowhere and not just kills, but slaughters over twenty of their number ... and then surrenders to them! "Oh man! Is this dude for real?" another man asked, voicing the unease they all felt. "This cat has gone soft in the head, no question."

"Ainít funny, man," Dee scolded. "This punk just snuffed Shelby."

Choke was intrigued, but he masked it with a blanket of fury. "If you is the same guy from three years ago," he said. "You has gone frigging nuts from them head shots!" That raised a few weak giggles from his men, but Choke remained deadly serious. "Any last words Mr. Ghost Man?"

[You remember, kid.]

"The crow said Ďdonít lookí!"

Choke grinned, this guy was nuts! "Yeah sure, drop him!"

At his words twenty-eight guns fired over and over. Bullets tore into his flesh like greedy worms tunnelling into a corpse ... and November fell to the ground, a pool of blood widening around him like a crimson shadow.

A wave of relief tsunamied over The Flock; the ĎGhost Maní had turned out to be nothing more than a mere mortal. "Like I said, ghost my black ass!" Dee quipped. The laughter this time was hearty, as if they were at a party and Dee had told the joke. A thick black cloud blocked out the moonís light, plunging them all into an inky darkness.

A voice: "Itís not death if you refuse it!"

The Flock spun around to look at the place where the voice had come from, and stared in disbelief at a puddle of blood Ö minus the body that it came from.

"What!?" Dee gasped, his voice almost inaudible.

"Stay put!" Choke barked at his men, unable to think of anything else to say. "This a trick ... canít be real..."

The Flock was as shocked as their leader, but not as speechless. Confused chatter rippled through them, shattering the air of confidence of a few seconds before.

"Whereíd he go!?"

"... Shit!"

"Heís in the shadow over there!" all the men turned in the direction that Dee pointed to. "I seen ... no! Heís over there!" the men turned once again, like sheep herded by the sheep-dog.

Dee slowly drifted to the rear of the group, totally confused. How could a guy withstand a pounding like that and then just disappear!? Maybe he is a ghos-

Two strong hands clasped around Deeís head and twisted it in one smooth convulsive movement. The sharp crack released by his snapped neck seized the attention of the men in front of him ... Dee dropped to the floor, dead as a turd.

A look of fearful disbelief masked the face of every one of the twenty-eight killers, rapists, thieves, and druggies ... November was up and alive! And fighting! It was impossible ... but it had happened!

That disbelief had bought November enough time to commandeer Deeís gun and mercilessly cut down three more men before the hail of gunfire resumed. All of Chokeís men began shooting at him with little accuracy or coherency, and at least two men went down by the bullets of their companions.

November danced through their hot lead shower, the crow quickly and efficiently healing each and every wound almost as soon as it was made, and all the way through November mocked the efforts of his enemies with constant reciting. "Behold the night, offering the key that opens her gates of horn to the emanations of delivered soul..."

He kicked the barrel of a manís shotgun just before he pulled the trigger. It swung up into the manís face, smashing in his teeth and lodging in his mouth. The manís head exploded upwards like a putrid melon.

November impaled another man on the samurai sword and hurled him into the crowd. "This society, absolved, consecrated, sanctified, possessed of the Devil, like a flood of black crows in the fibres of his eternal tree..." He split Jimmy Zuluís head in half with the sword and left it embedded there. "Submerged him in a last swell and taking his place..."

"Eat this!" Choke yelled, shooting November in the shoulder with a shotgun.

"... Killed him." November licked the wound. "Love bites, Choke?" Pulling his two guns from their holsters, November fired them dry into The Flock. "Oh, you sewer rats are so faithful, you cause me to blush to my bones. You never stop dying for me!" Men were dropping like flies. "Come on, kids. This isnít Cavalry Hill."

Marky T crept up and shot November through the neck. "Walk away from that, mother..."

"Not a chance." November turned and started bearing down on Marky T. "Scared?"

"No..?" Marky T replied, knowing that November knew he was really shitting his pants.

"You should be." He grabbed the thugís head and drove his face into a nearby wall in an explosion of blood. "Last call!"

He turned and surveyed the scene: only one other man was still standing.

Choke.

"If anyone would like me to call nine-nine-nine, please raise your hand." November joked out loud.

Unsurprisingly, no-one did.

"Forget this nightmare!" Choke ran to his car and climbed in. "Iím outta here!" He started up the car. "Buckle up, Shelby - itís the law ... man, you stink!" Choke drove straight past and over the crowd of bodies and sped down the town. "So what did that hooker say, Shelby?"

Back in the market square, November talked to the crow. "Does Choke know where heís going."

[No, he doesnít.]

"I know."

Choke drove along the road out of Totnes at a speed of over a hundred miles-per-hour. "So long, Totnes! Got me some brothers up in Leeds ... walkiní nightmare wonít never find me there."

At every corner, Shelbyís lifeless body slumped sideways. "Goddammit, Shelby! Quit floppiní your slimy head in my lap! Youís makiní me sick!" Choke pushed Shelby away with one hand. "I oughta stop aní dump your dead ass but there ainít no way Iím slowiní up for nothiní! That dude ainít never gonna catch ... me..." He glanced up and saw a car in the rear-view mirror. "Shit!"

Choke turned his head and stared back at the car, and saw a demonic white face through its windshield. "This wrong ... this all wrong..." While his head was turned, the crow swooped and spread its wings across Chokeís windshield, blocking his sight. Choke turned around to see it...

"What the..?"

Chokeís car hit a large mound and rolled over and over, spilling both passengers out. Choke lay in the road, propped up against a tree; both his legs were bent at unnatural angles. Novemberís car pulled up beside him and stepped out. "Oh, Jesus..." Choke groaned.

"Well, well..." November mocked.

"Címon, do it!" Choke yelled. November stood motionless in front of him, hands folded behind his back "Pussy, you ainít shit!"

"Hey, Choke..." November said. "How many Angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

"A fuckiní quiz... man, I donít know!"

November unfolded his arms, and the moonlight gleamed off the iron head of a hammer held in his right hand. "It depends on the tune."

 

Chapter Fifteen

-Passover-

"One owes respect to the living.
To the dead one owes only truth."

-Voltaire

* * * * *

Owen, stripped of his tortured November visage, slumped down against Ninaís gravestone. "Hello, Nina. Its over, honey. Iím coming home."

Memories flowed freely through Owenís mind, but this time they served to comfort him, now, not to torture.

He remembered the first time he had plucked up the courage and asked Nina out; their first date; their first kiss; the locket...

The crow soared high overhead. [Itís over, now, kid. Itís over...] The very same words it had told him that night in the TV room.

"Remember when you said, ĎForever?í" Owen asked as if Nina was there with him. "And I said, ĎForever.í You said, ĎOnly forever?í He rolled into his empty grave, and pulled the lid shut.

"Itís forever, now."

 

Afterword

"If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.

"Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever."

End