Dead Crow & the Spirit Engine
—for Barry Lamare
Prologue: Dead Crow
There is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with his own shadow. He kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until his shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate him. Crow is Dead Crow now.
–Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards, (Santa Fe, NM; Bear & Co., 1988)
Dark rook in a bleak rain.
Time has filed down my voice with a rasp. Spells, incantations, and alchemy interest me not at all, except as artifacts of what I already know. My only interest in bones is to pick them clean. Blood-cloaked loner on a trail of fingerbones. My eye black as the womb before star seeds snap life into being. Black as the feathers that fly straight from the eye of God. Caw! I speak and it is so.
Walks with a slight limp.
In my realm, stones on the beach are black embers, barely cooled. Leaves raven-sheeny in red moonlight. That sound is not wind but souls drifting past. Wind a deft pianist and every leaf another key. I’ve given up flying because thought is faster. If I only need to go short distances—hell, the walk will do me good. Reality in this place moves like mercury, not iron. Stare into my left eye—Caw! I dare you. See what happens.
Speaks with a slitted grin.
In my realm, thought translates directly into reality. Karma stops lying on its ass in front of the TV all day. Equal forces are met with equal and instant reactions. You think you hate your enemy and want him dead, and Caw!—he’s dead. You wonder one summer afternoon why grass isn’t orange instead of green. The entire landscape turns Mandarin Impressionist before your eyes. You think something insulting about the person you love and she cries. Suddenly loving becomes much, much simpler. Then again, maybe not.
Michelangelo of tongues.
Sings in a broken key.
Once I was white as Antarctica, pristine as sunlight on a wall. Once, my world was green and full of flowers, just like this one—meadows alive with birdsong. Skies clear as mountain crystal. Then one day Skunk came by. “Be careful, Crow,” she said. “Be proud of your thought magic and all the wonderful things it makes. But be careful.” It was then I began to realize—Caw! I was a god.
Semen of dusky angels.
Every day, Skunk would come by and warn me, “Be careful.” At first, I just laughed her off. But my patience flaked away like mica. Finally one day, when Skunk came into my sight—Caw! I exploded. My mind darkened—a total eclipse of rage. I saw a world engulfed in flame and it was so—every living thing charred black. Now I was Dead Crow, King of Shadows.
Black curtain slasher.
Well of constant sorrow.
When The Makers heard what I’d done, they realized I was far too powerful. With power like that I could black out an entire galaxy. In the past, only the coiling, bottomless throats of black holes could do that. Dawn Bringers and World Seeders that they are, The Makers sensed a great threat to their power. Something had to be done. But I’m nobody’s fool. They knew a simple frontal attack would never work. Trickery would have to be employed. So they invited me to banquet at their Council—a tribute to my abilities, they said. Damn my vanity!
Last among godly equals.
I was a brilliant sight, let me tell you! Beautiful white plumage, iridescent in the light. Goddesses purred over me, stroking my feathers. Gods praised me for the sheer strength of my mental powers, to turn an entire world black like that. They sang me songs and poets composed epic verses to commemorate Dead Crow’s deed. Let myself get a little too sloppy with wine, dancing on the table, answering song with song, poem with poem.
White star blossom.
Master of song shards.
Caw! Did they butter me up! Declared Dead Crow special among all the creatures they made. The Makers set upon the table a mirror with a surface liquid and still as a pond. “Here is your reward, Crow,” they said. “What will I see?” I asked. “The truth of yourself.” But what I saw made me shriek! My beautiful white feathers—black as coal in the belly of rock! Black as the world my thought power had consumed. Desperately I turned away and stared into a silver dinner plate, hoping it was just a stupid party trick. But no—there was that awful black shadow again.
Black matter king.
Messenger of tears.
“What have you done to me, what have you done?” I cried. “We have shown you the truth of yourself,” said The Makers. “But I have only used the power you created in me,’ I protested. “How was I supposed to know how dangerous it could be?” But by now the party was over and they were in no mood for discussion. “We have a job for you, Dead Crow.” Before I could ask, they told me to step up to the mirror again. Sober now, my every step quivered. A strange string of words was spoken in a language I’d never heard before. I felt myself being pulled inside the mirror, stretched somehow into a slurry of atoms. Yet I felt no pain. “Wait! Wait!” I shrieked. “What are you doing to me?”
Dark mirror diver.
Blank slate diviner.
Voice of all regrets in one.
When my vision finally cleared I had to check all my parts. Gradually I realized I was on this planet you call Earth. “But why? Why make me an exile?” I muttered. To my shock, my lovely singing voice now rasped horribly. I tried to sing once or twice more but it was no use. I’m not ashamed to say I wept. What crime could possibly deserve such punishment? I slid over forests and fields, lost and hopeless. Finally as I was about to hurl myself from the highest crag I could find, I heard a voice. It was The Makers, but they spoke only inside my head. “You must live a very, very long time, Dead Crow. You are to be our Watcher. You will remain here and report back to us.”
Quintessence of loneliness.
“But for how long? HOW LONG? When will I be released?” I begged. Again, no use. The voice died as suddenly as it had come, with not even the trace of an echo. It seems this was to be my fate—prisoner and warder in one. You can imagine the comedown—from Sovereign of Shades, Alchemist of Secrets, Magi of Creation—to carrion eater. From a thousand languages to a hinge’s rusty growl.
Crab Nebula outlaw.
Dog star wild card.
Cassiopeia’s Twilight Angel.
Exiled to a single planet, no less. Worst of all—Caw! A scavenger kicked around by humans, who shit their own nests. I’ve seen a helluva lot in 40,000 years. You want evolution? Give me somebody who can think before they act. A rare gift, I can tell you. Still, I take consolation from the poets, who translate straight from Earth’s core. Her signs and wonders are not in vain.
Emperor of the Crossroads, I nest over the forked path. The Book of Secrets is bound in crow feathers. You want all the arcane equations? Hyperspace, wormholes, time travel? Caw! I’ve seen the universe spread in every direction like strings of pearls. Every pearl another world, another dimension skating sideways across time. Past, present and future nothing more than thought. And every thought another world budding on the World Tree.
Arbiter of secrets.
My powers have ended. Yours are just beginning, Human. Meanwhile, I await my liberation. I’ve bloody well earned it. You think this world is everything there is? We see the stars from the bottom of a well. This reality we signed on for—this world order? We made it all up. We can agree it has failed and sign off. Make up a new one. Dead Crow grins that long-beaked grin that has been the envy of every great smart-ass since the dawn of Time—
But then again, I could be lying. Why not find out for yourself?