Quoth the Crow

Assignment: Mystery/Comedy with a random object/thing – a crow

When it comes to tales of mystery and the imagination, you could do a lot worse than going back to the father of the genre; Edgar Allen Poe himself. Poe was a haunted man who lived in obscurity, and who struggled with some pretty serious demons. I suppose that’s one of the reasons he was able to do what he did, which was to change the course of storytelling that helps readers to explore the dark side of what it is to be human.

Yet, he was a writer like any other when it came to sitting down and filling up a blank page. He must have had a process for it; maybe even a Dark Muse to help him along. So, this story is a sort of speculative fiction about the author of “The Raven”, and the inventor of the modern mystery story. But, where does the crow come in? Well, therein lies the comedy, complete with a pun in the end as a payoff …

***

Edgar sat at his desk, and the crow perched on his stand near the window, looking over Edgar’s shoulder.

Edgar Allen Poe the Raven

Illustration by Édouard Manet 1875

“Once upon a midnight dreary…,” Edgar recited, holding his quill meaningfully over the parchment.

“What the hell does that mean?” asked the Crow.

“Reggie, I’m trying to write something. Do you mind just being quiet for just a while?”

“Quiet? Dude, I’m a crow. I don’t do quiet, man.”

“Look, Reggie. You’re supposed to be here to, y’know, inspire me to explore the dark side of the human imagination.”

“Hey! I’m doing my part. And all you can come up with is ‘Once upon a midnight dreary’? Again: what the hell does that mean?”

“It’s just a line to establish the setting, and the mood. It’s a proven technique. But, what would you know about that?”

“I know what I like. And that sucks.”

“No. It doesn’t suck. You just think it sucks because you have no taste.”

“I wouldn’t poop on it if it lined my cage, Ed. That’s a fact. I’m not saying that to hurt your feelings, man. I’m just being straight with you.”

“Whatever. But seriously, Reggie; can you just give me a bit of peace while I write this thing? I’ve got a deadline. I’m going to sell it to The New York Evening Mirror.”

“You’ll be lucky. What’s the poem about, anyway?”

“It’s about a guy who’s girlfriend died, and he’s so bent out of shape about it that he’s going insane.”

“Huh,” replied Reggie.

“What does that mean?” asked Edgar, pushing himself away from his desk.

“Nothing, man, nothing. Just, you know: “huh”.”

“No, no. C’mon. You’ve got an opinion. Let’s hear it.”

“What do you care what I think? You just said I had no taste.”

“OK, OK; I take it back. I just want to know what the “huh” means, that’s all.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah. C’mon. What do you think of the idea?”

“It’s a drag, man. There it is.”

“A drag? It’s supposed to be a drag! It’s a poem about a guy who’s being driven crazy by missing someone who’s never coming back!”

“Great. Harshing everyone’s mellow. Is that your thing, Ed? Is that your niche? Why not throw in a unicorn or something every once in a while? A rainbow? How about a poem about flowers and kittens to help break up the moping a bit?  Why are all of your stories and poems about guys who are going crackers? What is it with you, man?”

“Nothing. Well, I do like a drink or ten every once in a while. And I get confused from time to time, and can’t tell between what’s real and what’s a figment of my imagination. And sometimes I wake up in other people’s clothes with no idea how I got into them. But, other than that …”

“Got it, got it. You’re just writing what you know. I got it.”

“Well, yeah.” Edgar said, feeling confused as to whether or not he’d won the point or not. “But, seriously. How do I make this thing better? You’re supposed to be my muse, Reggie.”

“You need another character in there. I mean, this guy is pining for some dead girl, right? Maybe he needs someone in there to, you know, cheer the guy up.”

“Cheer him up? I don’t know. I’m not too big on cheer …”

“Don’t I know it, Ed. But you definitely need something in there to lend this downer a little bit of perspective. Ooh! How about this? You could give the guy a pet crow. Like, a talking crow. Crow’s are cool, right?”

“Riiight. Cool. Like how you’re cool? And a crow? Is this a way to get into one of my poems, and thereby into the New York Evening Mirror? I get the impression that maybe you’ve got some kind of feathery, beady-eyed agenda going on here …”

“What?” said Reggie defensively. “It’s a good idea!”

“You’ve been trying to get into one of my stories ever since we started hanging out. Admit it, Reg.”

“Why would I want to be in one of your depressing stories, Ed?”

“Because I’m the only writer you know.”

“Show’s what you know. You know that guy who wrote Utopia? We used to hang out.”

“Sir Thomas More? That guy was a hack.”

“Yeah, a hack. Not like you, Mr. “help, help I’m trapped in a coffin”.”

“Hey! I was proud of that one!”

“But, it was a drag too, man. It’s a guy stuck in a box. What’s cool about that?”

“It was scary! That was the whole point! Doesn’t that creep you out; the idea of being buried prematurely?”

You creep me out, Ed. Seriously.”

“Good. I’m doing my job, then.”

“No. Listen. When I say ‘you creep me out’, you gotta understand the wider context, man. Maybe I just need to spell this out plainly. So here it is; I am not here. I’m not even a real crow. I’m the manifestation of your mind that is slowly gamboling along the road to Crazy Town. ‘K? ”

“So, what are you saying? You don’t like it here anymore?”

Reggie ruffled his feathers, and looked away. Then, he looked back into Edgar’s eyes.

“Yeah. Yeah, maybe I am saying that, Ed. Among other things, I’m not crazy about living with a guy who married his teenaged cousin. I mean, who does that? ”

“Hey, c’mon. That was a cheap shot, Reggie. She’s the love of my life.”

“And look at this place! When’s the last time you cleaned up in here?”

“I’m an artist, not a housekeeper!”

“Yeah, well. I don’t care anymore. I’ve had it with you, man. I think you better get yourself another dark muse. Clearly, we’re past the point of making it work.”

Edgar frowned.

“Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, there’s the door. I mean, there’s the window. Maybe you can go hang with Mr. Utopia again!”

“Oh, that’s sensitive. The guy got his head chopped off four hundred years ago. Hey, maybe you can write a morbid poem about it.”

“Maybe I will!”

“Yeah, good comeback, Ed.”

“Whatever, Reggie. Look, if you want to go, just go!”

Reggie eyed Edgar, and paused. “OK. Then we’re agreed; it’s over.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Edgar, trying to keep a stern tone of voice, and failing.

There was another pause.

“Listen, I know a guy that might be a better fit around here, y’know? I’ll see if I can set something up. No hard feelings, Ed. You’re a nice guy. But, well, you know how it is.”

“Yeah, well. I guess I’ll see you around.”

“Well, I get kinda busy, Ed.”

“Oh, sure. OK. So long, Reggie.”

Reggie flew out of the open window, sailing into a bleak sky to disappear forever.

Edgar shut the window, and went back to his parchment. It stared back at him. Then, he wrote: once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary. “Screw that guy,” thought Edgar to himself. “This is a great opener.”

Then there was a tapping on the window, and Edgar turned. A black bird perched on the window sill. For a second, Edgar thought that Reggie had changed his mind. But, it wasn’t Reggie.

Edgar opened the window.

“Yes, can I help you?” Edgar said.

“Yeah, my name’s Carl. I heard from a buddy that you were looking for a dark muse, so …”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. Reggie must have referred you. Yes, yes, I am looking for a replacement. C’mon in.”

“Thanks,” said Carl, hopping from the sill and into the darkened study.

“How was the trip out here?” asked Edgar, conversationally.

“Not too bad. I got jammed up a bit on Repression Highway. But, otherwise, it was smooth sailing.”

“Sweet. Look, I hope you don’t mind but I need to ask you a few questions before I decide whether or not you get the job. You understand.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure thing.” said Carl, affably.

“OK. You’re a crow, too, right.”

“Uh, no. I’m a raven.”

“Oh, shit. Sorry!”

“Hey, hey. No biggie. I get that all the time.”

“Well, I’m glad I asked. That could have been awkward later on.”

Carl shrugged casually.

“I’m Edgar, by the way. You can call me Ed, or Eddie if you want. That’s what my friends call me.”

“Hey, Edgar.”

“Hey,” said Edgar awkwardly. “Um. So this is a live-in position. Are you cool with that?”

“Yeah, no problem. I can move my stuff in by next week.”

“Great, great. And do you have any problems with stories about, say, plagues, dead people hidden under floorboards, or guys getting walled up inside wine cellars?”

“No, Edgar. No problems with that. I can get behind that kind of stuff.”

“What about a story about an orangutan that kills people with a straight razor? And with – get this – a guy who solves the crimes by using clues left behind to figure out who the murderer is. What do you think? I think that kind of thing might really take off.”

“Yeah. That sounds totally cool. Killer gorillas. Awesome.”

“Orangutan. It’s an orangutan, not a …”

“Oh, yeah. Sure, sure.”

“Great. And as far as your experience as a dark muse, um, who have you worked with before? Anyone I know?

“Well, lessee; John Webster, John Donne, Shelley (Percy and Mary), Kit Marlowe, and um…”

“Sir Thomas More?”

“No; never More.”

“You’re hired!”

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