It was a cold morning in April. The windows were frosted over, and as Pelle opened the one nearest the bed, he saw that the world glittered, the trees covered in ice crystals. There was something strangely peaceful about being alone in the old villa; he could hear the old wood creaking as it shrank and expanded in accord with the weather, and he could hear the crows, the ones that lived in the woods, their woods. They often feasted on the leftovers and garbage Øystein left outside, seldom bothering with taking the trashcans down to the road. There were usually between five and ten crows, good numbers indicating good things, and he often looked to the crows for advice. Today, however, he saw a single crow outside his window. One crow.
“… Death,” he whispered below his breath, brows drawn together.
One crow means death, catastrophic change, loss.
He felt perplexed as he closed the window, sitting down on the bed with his legs folded under him. The air was cold; he hadn’t put new logs in the wood burner since Øystein had left. And he’d been alone for… days. His dad had called him last night and they’d argued about that school back in Sweden; they’d accepted his application, or, well, his father’s application in his name. He didn’t want to go. Couldn’t. The reasons were many, but the one that bugged him the most was that he’d have to interact with a bunch of posers and losers, people who couldn’t understand him and probably didn’t want to understand him either. Besides, he couldn’t live at a dorm.
… The insomnia, he thought, and indeed, his brain was fried. He hadn’t slept well the last… couple of months?
The crow. His eyes shot back to the black bird, its evil eyes piercing tiny holes in his soul, of what little remained of it, and yes, he could feel it now, the advice of the spirits. They chanted ‘death, death, death, death’ in a chilling chorus. Death, yes. A transition, that’s all – a portal to the other side – the afterlife, and he wasn’t afraid, not really. But… did they want him to… go back home? He remembered the near-death experience, the colors he’d encountered, felt, and then being dragged back to consciousness. After that, he’d felt like he was stuck with one leg in each realm, the world of the living and the world of the dead, and he couldn’t belong anywhere, not truly.
“Do you think I belong here?” he asked the bird, though the glass drowned out his voice. Then it flew away, crowing: caw! caw! caaaw!
He considered it for a moment, the response, his eyes glazing over. Life had been devoid of… life. As of late, anyways. He’d been on this mission, this mission to make Mayhem, their band, work, but… it had dissolved. The tour had been a catastrophe. Øystein had kept on saying, ‘We’ll make it, we’ll get rich, we’ll get famous,’ and Pelle had gobbled up those words like they’d been candy, and now… He looked down at his naked arm, at the scar he’d given himself last year, the smashed bottle cutting deeply, too deeply, hitting a major vein. At the time, he’d thought, ‘Damn it to hell,’ and had left it up to the spirits to decide whether it’d heal or get infected, or maybe he’d get to die from blood loss. None of it mattered. He’d survived. The next day, he’d seen five crows. Prosperity. A positive change. He’d tried telling the other guys about it, about crows and special numbers that indicated certain things, but no one would listen.
Probably why it all went to hell. He pulled at a lock of golden hair. Several strands fell out. It didn’t alarm him; his hair had come off in clumps lately; it was just another sign that things were going even farther to hell. Fuck them. Fuck the band. Fuck it all.
And one crow, one crow, that was huge, and he couldn’t ignore it. Looking down at the palm of his hand, the strange-looking lifeline, which was severed not once but twice before it grew thicker, more prominent, he knew the prophecy had to be fulfilled, and today was the day, the day the spirits had chosen for him… And the spirits couldn’t be ignored, not when the signs were so clear, so obvious that even a blind man could’ve seen them! No, he hadn’t been able to fulfill his mission in this life, but in the afterlife? He felt excited all of a sudden, eyes gleaming. A new chance. He’d been gifted with a second chance. He was special; the other guys could go fuck themselves. They’d given up! They’d chickened out, Jørn because of the crotch goblin and Øystein, well, because he was a chihuahua. All bark and no bite. Fuck him and his lies! Fuck them. They weren’t special, no, not special at all…
… They wouldn’t have dared to leave this shitty life behind… Pelle didn’t just dare, oh no, he longed for it, longed to let go of this pitiful vessel, this skin that didn’t fit him and never had. And he was certain it was time. Crows don’t lie. Crows are wise. They carry messages from beyond the grave, whisper them to those who want to hear. Those who want to believe.
He found his notepad and scribbled down the words, ‘He who does not believe in the afterlife is a fool,’ and tore it from the pad, folded it in his hand and bounced down the narrow staircase, energic in spite of being tired, so fucking tired. He hadn’t slept, hadn’t had anything to eat but tea and flatbread, and when he met his own reflection in the mirror in the hallway, he realized that he’d achieved his goal. He looked dead. Ghoulish. Too much too late. He looked away and hurried to the living room. There, he put the crumbled-up piece of paper behind a vase on the window sill. In the vase was an ugly plastic flower, a flower in eternal bloom. He ripped it from the ‘stem’ and put it in the trash. Then he went to grab the knife he’d bought the other day. He’d remarked to their drummer that, ‘It’s very sharp’, and he’d just stared at him, eyes blank, hollow, and he’d failed to understand. Everyone had always failed to understand.
… But they’re among the living. They don’t know what I know. They are all imbeciles.
He left the house, left to seek out the spirits that wandered the woods, hid behind the trees and watched him. They chanted, ‘death, death, death, dead, dead, dead…’ The knife pierced the skin but he was too cold to bleed. Pity. He’d wanted to die among the spirits. He’d often felt as if they were his kinsmen, his brethren, his only friends. But standing at death’s door, he knew it didn’t matter, not truly. He walked back, feeling the cold seeping into his bones. His slit wrists hurt and throbbed, and he felt dizzy, so very dizzy. He stopped by a tall tree and closed his eyes, thinking. Then his grip tightened around the knife. He brought it to his chin and traced a line down to his Adam’s apple, just hard enough to feel it. Opening his eyes only slightly, he dug harder into the skin, the flesh and sliced his throat, but he wouldn’t bleed, just wouldn’t bleed, and he waited for a while, waited, but he didn’t die. Disappointed, he pressed his forehead against the tree and muttered, “I’m sorry,” drawing in the earthy scent of the world around him.
When he saw the house, his heart sank. There it stood, so big he hadn’t ever seen a bigger house, yet it felt so small, so suffocating. He hadn’t wanted to die behind its walls. There’d been too much suffering behind these exact walls. The first couple of months had been great, an orgasm of black creativity, really, and they’d been friends – no, they’d been friendly. They’d written songs – he’d written songs – and they’d all been obsessed with their unholy mission, to creative the vilest, cruelest, most dreadful work of art the human mind could conjure up. Everyone had worked tirelessly, and oh mighty Satan below, they’d been successful. But then… then something had changed; they’d understood the prophecy, that he was living on borrowed time, and then they’d tried helping him cross the threshold, telling him, ‘If you’re so hell-bent on dying, just get it over with.’ If he overcooked their dinner, made watered-out coffee or pestered Øystein about the album they hadn’t been able to record yet, mostly due to being constantly broke, they’d say, ‘Do us all a favor and go kill yourself,’ and maybe that’s why they’d left him? To help him fulfill his fate? His final journey to the underworld.
Crows only talk to you when you’re alone, he reasoned. And the crow had flown away and disappeared, dispersing into mist, into forest spirits chanting, cheering him on, and yes, it was all so obvious, so terribly, gruesomely obvious! Only through death may I survive, he told himself, convinced himself. Moving on to another dimension.
He opened the door and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, of the blood streaking down his snow-white neck, and he felt wrong about it, about the life that oozed from his veins. He needed to be dead. He needed it.
‘Oh, and the shotgun’s in the closet,’ Øystein had told him the day he’d left, his smile thin on his lips. ‘In case something bad happens while you’re alone.’
Half an hour later, the sound of a gunshot resonated throughout the building. On the bed, the twenty-two-year-old boy lay with his skull split open, brain and blood and skull fragments covering the otherwise plain pine walls. Outside, the lonesome crow had found his friends, all four of them.