The Colonel And The Raven

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

An old man’s meeting with a Raven takes an unexpected turn.

 

It was a day like any other, except that it wasn’t.

The old colonel, retired now for more years than the lines on his face would suggest, woke up from a troubled sleep disturbed by the rumbling of trucks, the staccato of jack hammers and the woeful wail of sirens. On this day the noises of the city were louder than usual, for he had left the bedroom window open the night before so as to let in some fresh air. But he was annoyed and anxious this morning even more than usual - mostly from the soot and dust that collected under the open window, but also because he was unable to find a cuff link, one of a pair of onyx and silver links inherited from his father and always kept on the top of his bureau, and third he was very angry because the drain in the kitchen sink was clogged for the second time in as many days.

As the morning mist gave way to the overcast gray that is the color of New York City, the colonel dressed and took leave of his apartment, still in a rather irritable mood, and walked down the four flights of stairs, as was his habit, avoiding using the elevator where he would be lured into some meaningless small talk.

Leaving the building, his first stop was often the newsstand around the corner. After wordlessly getting the newspaper, he would buy coffee and a doughnut from the street vendor, then on to a small park named for a mayor who was no longer remembered.

If the day had unfolded as it had for nearly two decades, the colonel’s visit to the park would have been without incident. He would have sat on a bench away from the others, read two or three articles in the paper, sipped a bit of coffee and poured the rest out on the pebbly ground, and then briskly walked to the subway to get to the library where he would research military history for the book he would never write.

But today his routine was suddenly interrupted by the quite alarming arrival of a raven, passing so close to the colonel that he could sense the air moving around him. The large bird circled twice, then perched itself on the bench beside him, cocking its head right and left, regarding the colonel with the sharp raven eye.

There they sat, the colonel and the raven, for several moments, curiously sizing each other up.

 

Now the colonel, a frequent visitor to the twilight area between fantasy and reality, commenced an imaginary conversation with the raven that played out silently in the privacy of his mind. Turning to the raven, he began to speak without words.

“Welcome Raven… Or are you a crow?”

The raven hopped again, moving away with a brief flutter of his wings.

“Don’t be offended Raven. I have the greatest respect for your species. Your ancestors have lived among us since the beginning of time. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to the Tower of London. And not to forget ‘Nevermore’. I know you well Raven.”

He could have continued with more references to ravens: an Egyptian goddess, a Welsh King, Morrigan the Celt… But he stopped.

There was a moment of silence in the colonel’s mind, as his thoughts briefly turned to the dirt on his window sill, the missing cuff link and the kitchen drain. But rather than dwelling on the things that sour his mood, he turned again towards the bird. “You are known to be cunning and curious, Raven. These are qualities I respect.”

With this, the colonel poured his coffee onto the pebbly ground and folded his unread newspaper. Several minutes passed in silence.

“This was nice, sitting beside you, but I need to leave you now Raven.”

Before the colonel moved from his seat on the bench, the raven flew into the air and landed on a low branch that lay between the colonel and the path leaving the park, as if to accompany him to wherever he was headed.

“Clever bird, but I really must leave you now. If only I had some crumbs for you.” With that, the colonel walked past the raven and onto the streets of the bustling city.

With the park and the bird far behind him, he crossed several streets, careful of the traffic and mindful of the construction sites where the roar of heavy machines pierced the air with a vengeance. He navigated his way through the crowded sidewalks, crossed intersections that were precarious for motorists as well as pedestrians, and descended into the subway station moments before his train pulled in.

After several minutes in a crowded subway car and having arrived uptown, he climbed the stairs from deep below the ground and surfaced into the late morning sun, taking a moment to let his eyes get accustomed to the brightness of the day.

And then to his surprise and utter amazement - there was the raven, perched on the fencing of the subway entrance, looking directly at the him with an intensity that becomes the noble bird. The colonel was more than baffled by this. He was visibly shaken as he tried to make sense of what was unfolding before him.

What could possibly be the explanation for this? The colonel knew that nothing could impart reason or understanding to how and why this wild bird came to be in this place. Mystical? Metaphysical? Maybe a psychotic episode? He didn’t know. But there was the raven, far from the park where they met. The colonel somehow knew, or felt it in his soul, that he and the raven were meant to encounter one another once again at this very spot.

But why?

And then he noticed something that would forever haunt him. A thing that would always occupy his thoughts and direct his actions. As ravens are prone to do, the bird had a small shiny object in its beak. The colonel took a step closer to the raven, eyeing the bird’s beak and its contents, and tentatively stretched out his trembling hand. The raven hopped closer - very close - and with a gentle slight movement of his head he dropped an onyx and silver cuff link into the colonel’s hand.

And then flew off.


Submitted: October 18, 2021

© Copyright 2021 John Manno. All rights reserved.

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