“What have we got, Calvin?” Lucy asked as she walked into the room, twisting her hair out of her face.
Calvin looked up from the bed. “Male, late twenties. He stumbled in here an hour ago, raving and covered in blood. We took care of that: sedated him, fixed him up, but now he’s not responding.”
“Chart?” Lucy extended a hand.
“Here, but it’s empty.” Calvin slid a crisp folder into her hand. Lucy didn’t even bother to open it before setting it down on the bedside table.
She turned her attention towards her patient: the man’s face was slack, but his eyes were open. He blinked languidly every few seconds. Lucy waved her hand experimentally in front of his face, noting that he didn’t respond to the motion.
“Do you think he was cursed?” she asked, as she shone a light into the man’s open eye, noting as the pupil contracted.
The other healer shrugged. “That’s why we called you in. You’re the best.”
“Cal,” Lucy began softly, but stopped. “Could you, just, tell Miranda that I’ll be a while?”
Before he could respond, a trainee stuck her head through the door. “Healer Li, you’re needed on the second floor.”
“Coming,” he said with a smile that made the girl giggled. As he turned to close the door, Calvin tilted his head, as if examining Lucy. “Dinner with me at nine?”
She gave a resigned half laugh. “I could do that.”
With a wink, Calvin shut the door, leaving Lucy alone with the patient.
“Whatever it is that happened to you,” Lucy spoke aloud as she made some notes on the man’s file, “you’re not in danger now. My name is Healer Weasley and—” Her voice trailed off as a strangled sound came from the bed. The man’s body buckled and expanded until he was sitting upright on the bed.
“Help,” he groaned.
Lucy took a step back. Never before had talking to a patient helped: she only did it to keep herself focused on the task at hand. “You’re at St. Mungo’s,” she said, hoping that would reassure him. “You’re safe now.”
But instead of calming the man, Lucy’s words made him more frantic. He swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Help,” he demanded again, this time his voice clear enough that Lucy could hear a tinge of an accent.
“What happened to you? We want to help you here.” Lucy inched over to a switch which, when pressed, would alert several other healers to her need for assistance.
He grabbed at her arm, “He killed my sister.”
Lucy gasped. “Do I need to call Law Enforcement?” She thought of her training, thought about always staying calm, never showing that she was frightened in a situation like this.
“He killed my sister.”
-- -- -- -- --
Blood ran down his fingers, dropping like tears onto the stone. The slash on his upper arm throbbed with each heartbeat that reminded him that of the body he had found inside the cottage.
He had left work early, hoping to surprise his sister for supper. He brought a bottle of wine to share with her, and had walked through the unlocked door, a reprimand for not being more cautious leaving his lips before he saw the blood. The image had been blurry even then, as if his brain would not let him see this reality in all its horror, as if it could not comprehend the sight of death.
Now, all he could see was her face, which would have been alive if she hadn’t been so pale. Her hair made trails across her face, a lattice across her white skin. As he straightened, searching for something to blame, a light flashed across his vision and a raven tore across the room, claws scratching at his arm, voice scratching at the silence before it left through the door.
He had lifted his sister up from the floor, carrying her into the small bedroom and laying her gently on the bed, so that she might be sleeping, if it hadn’t been for the drops of his blood on her face, smeared where his injured arm had touched her.
It was not far to the nearest town and he stumbled down the road, wishing that he had the energy to run. The dirt turned to cobbled stones and he sank to his knees.
-- -- -- -- --
Lucy put on a smile as she walked into the room. “Hello Mr. Ayala. How are you feeling today?”
The man was lounging on his bed, looking relaxed, “Much better.” His dark hair was brushed, his eyes were glowing and he had color in his skin again. “I have to apologize,” he began, dipping his head. “I’m sure I scared you.” The accent was back, lilting his words in a pleasant way.
“There’s no need,” Lucy said warmly, and there wasn’t. The man had been driven mad by a curse, but thankfully it had been a madness they could mend. Whatever horrors his attacker had made him believe, they were all gone from his head now. “In fact, I’ve come to tell you that you’re free to go, if you feel well enough.”
Mr. Ayala smiled, his teeth bright against his tanner skin. “Thank you.”
“I know this may be a difficult subject for you, but do you have any family who can pick you up?” Lucy still heard his screams wrenching through the room when she slept. At least his anguish was now over.
He shook his head. “No, though I’ll be perfectly alright.” He gave another grin that made Lucy wish that Calvin still smiled at her.
Lucy turned to go, and as she did, noticed a large painting affixed to the back of the door. A raven stared at her, its eyes dark jewels, its wings glistening through the paper. One of its claws, she noticed with a sickening lurch to her stomach, was covered in red.
“Do you like it?” Mr. Ayala asked.
Lucy couldn’t lie. There was something uncanny about it. “You’re an artist,” she said instead.
“Occasionally,” he laughed.
-- -- -- -- --
The madness came in flashes. He was painting when suddenly it engulfed him. He was back at her house, saw her body on the ground. Saw the bird flying at him. Saw that light. He knew, with horrible certainty that it was that bird that had killed his sister.
The air around him shattered as he screamed, unable to contain the sound. How could he have forgotten about her, lying there? How could he have forgotten the bird that had mocked him even as he mourned? It watched him now from the door, gloating.
Without thinking he launched himself at the bird, tearing at it. Feathers grew out of the paper, scattering on the floor and floating in the air like black snow. His fingers met daggers as the bird clawed at his hands, attacking through parchment and paint. The feathers grew sharp, shredding his skin and he jerked his hands away.
A pall fell over his vision and he collapsed to the ground. A breath later, his eyes cleared as tears streamed down his cheeks, washing away the blindness. He looked at his hands, bleeding and raw and up at the door, where a perfect painting hung. He didn’t remember how he managed to end up on the floor. He looked up at the painting, which was of a gleaming raven. It was a beautiful painting.
-- -- -- -- --
Lucy sat in the café, drinking her third cup of tea. It was one of her few holidays, and she was enjoying feeling civilized. She heard the bells on the door jangle as someone walked in, and saw, with surprise, that it was Mr. Ayala.
He caught her gaze and smiled; in return she offered him a wave. He took that as a signal to come over. “How are you Mr. Ayala?” Lucy asked, shaking his hand.
“Wonderful, and please, call me Adam.”
He bought a pot of tea and sat next to her. “I’m looking for a flat,” he began.
Lucy laughed at that. Something about him made her laugh—it wasn’t just that he had lovely eyes or a charming smile. “Have you found any options?”
“Nothing at all cheap. Though I suppose that’s always the problem.” Adam looked at her as he sipped his tea.
“Something’s always the problem at any rate,” Lucy said, thinking of Calvin. He had told her he wanted to get married. She could have yes, her mother would have been thrilled, but the thought of spending the rest of her life with Calvin paralyzed her. So she had broken things off in the worst possible way with all the ends splintered and raw.
“I suppose that since I’m no longer your Healer I can ask how you’re feeling?
Adam nodded, the pleasant expression on his face never slipping. “I’m perfect. Of course, the Ministry hasn’t had any success finding out who attacked me, but it’s hardly on their list of priorities.”
Or they had nothing to go on, Lucy thought. But it wasn’t polite to say such things, and besides, he was a kind man besides. It wasn’t his fault, none of it was.
“Do you need company while shopping?” Lucy asked instead.
-- -- -- -- -- --
It was a perfect room, with a decent view, onto the crowded, vibrant street below. The kitchen table was small, the loo no more than a closet, but the bed was large enough for him and Lucy when she stayed.
A jar of paint sat on the tiny table, awaiting his brush. It was black but tinged with blue, so dark it had color in it. He closed his eyes and imagined the canvas in front of him. His heart pounded in his head. It is time, something told him and he dipped his brush into the paint.
His hands created while his mind rested. Each brushstroke was feather light, dusting over. He dipped his hand into the paint and signed the painting with a print of his hand.
He opened his eyes to stare at his work. Upon the wall was a gigantic bird, a raven with delicate wings and lacey feathers. Its eyes stared at him and blinked. The hand print on the wall dripped red blood down the walls.
The bird extended scaly leg out of the plaster, scratching the man’s face. This bird had killed his sister. He flung the paint towards the creature, drying to drown it and smother it, but when the paint hit the bird it exploded into thousands of blue-black feathers that clogged the air.
He choked on them, felt them stick to the blood on his face. His sister lay on the floor. Her hair made trails across her face, a lattice across her white skin. A web of paint and hair and blood and feathers, delicate a first, growing more horrific as it congealed and clotted. He screamed and screamed and all that was left was a smiling skull where his sister’s face had been.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Lucy entered the flat with a smile on her face and a pot of soup in her hands. “Hello,” she cried out, tucking the spare key into the pocket of her blouse.
Adam leapt off the sofa, and took the soup, giving her a quick kiss in return. “Hullo love. How was work?”
“Stop it,” Lucy laughed. She could never stop laughing around him. “You know that it doesn’t matter. I’d much rather talk about your day.”
He set about warming the soup on the stove and before long they were curled up on the sofa with mugs in their hands. It was much too cold outside to sit on the wooden chairs. Here they would be warmer and closer and there was no need for a tablecloth.
“I was thinking,” Adam said, looking at Lucy in a way that made her want to stay close to him forever, “I was wondering…”
“Yes?” she breathed, knowing what would come next.
But something changed and his eyes grew dark. “It killed my sister,” he said in a soft voice.
It was so soft Lucy was sure she’d misheard. “What?”
“It killed my sister.” This time there was no mistaking the panic in his voice.
Lucy set the mug down and put her hands on Adam’s shoulders. “Listen,” she said in a trembling voice, “you don’t have sister. Listen to me, Adam. I’m right here. You don’t have a sister and no one is dead.”
He pushed her away and pointed to the wall behind her. Lucy turned and heard a strangled sound, like a dying bird. Adam shouted again, and grabbed her arm.
His fingers were frantic as he scraped at his own skin and then her own. “What are you doing?” she screamed. “Adam!”
Adam’s eyes were closed and he dropped her arm, only to begin beating at the walls. “He killed her!” he choked.
Lucy’s hand covered her mouth and she flung herself towards the door. Adam lunged to stop her, but she was faster and had it shut just as his fingers scrabbled at the painting hanging on the door.
“Oh God,” Lucy couldn’t think more than to know that she had to call the Ministry, had to get someone to help Adam. For his own good.
-- -- -- -- -- --
He ran out, down the street, following the bird that taunted him as it flew, alighting just long enough to let him catch up before carrying on.
The street was lined with frozen people. They didn’t care that he was running, that the bird had left marks on his arms as he had tried to fend it off.
He was mad again, but that particular moment of lucidity didn’t matter. It only made him run faster after the bird which shrieked and screamed.
The bird stopped once more, hovering above a wooden door. Blood dripped out of the seams and he saw his sisters face etched into the door handle.
With a cry, he broke the door in. The raven sped ahead of him, alighting on the shoulder of a man who was seated with his back to the door. It preened and posed, and feathers filtered through the air.
Blood seeped from pores in the wall and Adam reached for a knife that lay on the table. It was cold in his hand and silver. He moved towards the man and towards the bird. But they knew he was there; they knew everything about him. With neither panic nor alarm, the man turned and held a letter out towards Adam who exchanged it for the knife.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Lucy sat in the waiting room of St. Mungo’s curled up in a chair. The lights were harsh, burning her eyes, which were already raw from crying.
She was waiting for Calvin of all people, because she had nowhere else to go. Adam had the key to her flat, and she didn’t dare go back to his.
She was not out of place in this room where everyone was waiting and crying, or waiting and hoping.
A man walked into the room, staggering a little. He was like any patient who managed to come in standing, but injured. But Lucy’s eyes cleared up enough so that she could see his face.
Before she thought she was running across the room, wrapping her arms around him. “Adam,” she whispered and started crying when he whispered her name back.
“I’m so sorry,” she muttered into his ear. “I called them, I had to. I thought you were going to get hurt. But, Adam, I promise, I’ll say I was wrong. I’ll say we had an argument and I had had too much to drink and I was mad. I’ll say that you’re not mad, that it’s whatever curse you faced before. I know it’s true; I knew I was wrong.” She paused as something liquid dripped onto her arm. “Adam?” her eyes widened as she saw that the gash in his arm, three parallel gouges as if from claws. “Adam? Say something! Help! Get me a Healer! Adam?”
He stepped back and looked at her with a tilt to his head. “He killed my sister,” he said.
“You don’t have a sister,” Lucy pleaded.
“I killed him.”
-- -- -- -- -- --
He saw everything now. Saw her face screaming. Saw the raven swoop down. It would kill her, as it had killed his sister. But he had killed the man and she was safe.
Her words were the talons now, clawing at his heart. Her screams were the blood that dripped down his neck. But she was wrong, he knew. She was wrong. He had a sister, who had been killed. The raven and the man had been there but now they were gone. No longer did feathers veil his vision.
And he had proof. There was no need for her to have some unreasonable faith in him when he had all the proof she could want. Words that would satisfy her logical mind. She would see that the death was necessary to keep her safe. And the man had killed his sister.
There were people swarming around him now, grabbing his arms and his legs and forcing him onto a bed. She was sobbing in the background. He could give her proof. Blood dripped down his fingers as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter, its envelope embossed with a single feather.
He held it out to her but his fingers were slick and it fell to the floor. He moved to pick it up, but his arms were suddenly restrained and his body immobilized. The bed began to roll away from her, from the letter. He watched her sobbing. He could give her proof.
He opened his mouth to yell at her to read the letter but all that came out was wordless shrieking. She covered her face and then he was moving farther and farther and he could no longer see her. He shouted again, louder, screaming and screaming into a void, hoping someone would hear him.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Lucy hunched over in the seat. Calvin had reminded her to sit up straight as he had kissed her for luck but she couldn’t help but hunch in front of all the eyes. A tall woman leaned over a podium to peer down at Lucy, to shower questions on her.
“Mr. Ayala claims that he had a letter that proves that he is innocent,” the woman said in pinched tones. “Did you see this letter?”
“No.” Lucy wasn’t even lying.
The woman pursed her lips. “He says that he tried to give it to you.”
She shook her head, staring at the ground. Calvin had told her to sit up straight but she didn’t have the strength. “No.” She was lying, though she wished she was. If only she had some token to hold onto. It had been horrible enough already: they had showed the dead man and a horrible painting of a raven that Adam had done in harsh black.
“In your professional opinion, Healer, do you think Adam Ayala is guilty?”
Lucy looked up at that. Guilty of what? Of murder? Of madness? Was it her profession to know? She had nothing to profess.
The woman’s face crumpled further into itself. “Do you think the defendant is guilty? Speaking, of course, not as a personal friend of Mr. Ayala but as a friend of the court?”
A friend of the court. Calvin had read law books in preparation for this moment, had talked to her for weeks, speaking in Latin: amicus curiae.
An elderly man stood and leered down at Lucy. “Mr. Ayala is a cold blooded killer! He murdered an innocent man with no provocation! How can you not say that he is guilty?”
“Lucy answer the question,” Calvin’s voice fills her ears, impatient and demanding.
His voice starts the cacophony that follows as angry words attack her. They scream at her to declare that he is guilty, to look at the evidence. Lucy thinks about answering. She looks up, towards one of the lofty windows, where a single raven perches. Her gaze turns downwards. The shouts continue, insisting that she answer. Words and anger wash over her, swelling until she is drowning. Is he guilty? She stares at the ground and thinks of the raven above. Is he mad? Is he guilty?
But what is madness really?
Note: The title is based on the legal term "amicus curiae" meaning "friend of the court" in Latin.
Entered into caoty's horror/dark challenge.