Flash Fiction Challenge: The Crow of Nine-World

This is another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Feel free to tell me what I did wrong, where it falls flat, where it rings false. And maybe even where I got it right?

Crow looked down the bar to see Melly and her beautiful brown eyes staring at him with a smile that promised a night full of wonderful, scandalous things. It was a promise she had kept many times. But a night like that might fill him with wild and futile hopes. And tonight he couldn’t afford such a thing. He smiled back at Melly with promises of his own. Tonight he’d learn what it felt like to break his word.

Two worn leather boots stepped onto the bar, blocking his view of Melly. Crow smiled as his eyes traveled up from the boots, over mud-spattered trousers, a faded t-shirt with flecks of paint, a two-days unshaven smirk, and finally the mischievous wink of his oldest friend.

“All the luck in the world this one!” Gordy exclaimed to the bar. The little bar’s rafters seemed to shake with the cheers that erupted around them.

Gordy’s grin was wide, but there was sadness in his eyes. Crow hadn’t all the luck. Not really. Just a box full.

“How many times I told ya to get off my bar, Gordy!” Clark shouted, snatching up a broom to knock Gordy off the well-polished bar top. He had managed to keep the bar looking flawless despite Gordy’s taking every chance to dance upon it.

Gordy allowed himself to be pushed over with the broom, landing on his feet beside Crow. He picked up Crow’s ignored beer from the bar and took a swig before shoving the drink into Crow’s hand. Beside them, Clark set a beer down in front of Garret, Gordy’s older and much larger brother, and Gordy snatched it for himself. Garret raised a fist, but glanced at Crow, and took a deep, anger-settling breath. The luck hadn’t left Crow yet. That wouldn’t happen till the morning.

Clark, who seemed somehow to keep an eye on everything, had already poured Garret another drink and all was forgiven. Crow always wondered how such a decent guy ended up the barkeep to a town full of thieves.

“Lucky Crow!” Gordy shouted, throwing his arm around Crow’s shoulders and raising his drink.

The one-room bar resounded with shouts of “Lucky Crow!” and bird calls. His friends and neighbors filled the room, making it hot and stuffy and hard to move, but no one complained. Tonight they would party like it was their last.

His name wasn’t Lucky. It wasn’t Crow, either. One he was given, and the other he took, but both suited him well enough that he kept them.

One corner of the room burst into song, followed shortly by a group near the center bursting into a song they thought was better. The bar’s little tables had all been pushed up against the walls to create more standing room. This was definitely the most crowded and boisterous seeing off that Crow had attended, and he’d been to a few. They were there to say goodbye to him, while it was really his luck that was leaving.

Gordy jostled him in his one-armed hug and kissed his cheek. “At least you never owed a debt,” Gordy said into his ear to be heard above the ruckus. Crow had to smile at that. It was true, little thing that it was now. He had never payed the heavy price to the debtor. And he never would.

Tonight was eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow he would die. His luck was bound to run out some day. Especially the way he’d come by it.

His luck streak came after a bad start. Ten years was how long you got to become a productive member of society; either through family or function. Orphans who didn’t find their place in World Two were drowned. But Crow had always had a fear of the water; only ever took showers or shallow baths. No. Giver Lake was not for him. Three days before that fateful tenth birthday, he jumped onto a supply train. It was a better end. Fugitives were shot.

But this was where Crow had found his luck. Once on the train, he climbed into a large wooden chest that seemed as though it had been made to hide someone just his size. Scared stiff, he stayed still for what must have been hours- even after his muscles began to ache from being scrunched so tight- expecting every moment to be caught. When he finally found a modicum of courage, he jumped off the train and landed in Nine-World. It was years later that he learned he’d climbed into a luck box, inadvertently stealing away the luck inside from whoever had shipped it on that train. All considered, he didn’t mind that he would be dying now. Everyone died sooner or later. And he was already seventeen years overdue. Still lucky, in a way.

Crow had seen friends off on their last nights, and it always ended the same. Reminiscing, then regrets, and one last drink and one last drink till the mood was somber and bitter and hard. At the end he would see them safely home; bringing the luck that would chase off harm for their last walk through their darkest night. The way those men sobbed as they parted ways, Crow promised to secret away to his grave. A surety now. But in this moment, spirits were high, and that’s how Lucky Crow would be remembered. So he walked out of the cheer and into the cold alone. If he sobbed in the end, no one would be witness to it.

He looked once more at the little bar, every window showing a VIGNETTE of joy and humor and life. The longer he stood there, the farther away he felt. He saw a shadow leaning against the door frame. Probably a reveler who wanted to catch a bit of air after being in amongst the cloistering celebration. Somehow, though the party was meant to celebrate his life, it only reminded Crow of how close he was to being dead. He was lucky to have only been caught rather than killed on the spot like his COHORTS. Had he been anyone other than “Lucky” Crow, his loving friends might have turned on him, suspecting sabotage rather than the unlikeliest of luck.

Crow turned away from the merriment and started up the hill to the little house he’d been lucky enough to buy several times below market value from an estate sale. All descendants of the house’s last inhabitant had died, and so it had been up to the state to sell the house. Crow had happened upon the broker handling the sale before he could even put out the for-sale sign. And of course, it was conveniently located near the bar and the grocer, the fletcher where he worked, and all his closest friends, including Gordy.

He bent his head down low against the wind trying to push him back to the warmth and laughter and kind words. But none of that could save him, so he pushed on. Even now, in the unlit night, his boots avoided the deeper puddles and found purchase on rain-slick stone. As he pulled his coat in tighter around himself, he remembered the snowy night he had lost his jacket. He and Gordy had searched the entire coffee house, disbelieving till the very end that it was gone. He had been close to tears, feeling lost at having so suddenly been abandoned by his luck. But as he had stepped shivering and dejected from the coffee house, a woman carrying a box took one look at him and stopped. She set down her box of donations for the thrift shop a few doors down and fished out a fur-lined coat- much warmer and finer than the thin windbreaker he’d been looking for. Her husband had died and she had an entire box of clothes that were just his size. Who would the coat go to when he was dead?

“Hey!” he heard someone hail behind him. He didn’t stop. Well-meaning though they may be, Crow just wanted to be alone. His last moments would be very public, and he wanted to take the little time he had left for himself.

Executions were gruesome displays, warning others against attempting the same. Those protecting their land had the right to defend it. The man who had shot his friends down would see no justice for it. But Crow, who had killed no one, had twisted his ankle as he ran and stumbled out of range of the gunfire. He was found moments later, since they had been running through open space and he had the luck of having fallen behind the only stray delivery bin in the area. The man could have shot him then and there, and almost did, but changed his mind at the last second and lowered his gun.

Again his luck would have it that Garret had been called out of his usual jurisdiction to answer the call. Garret couldn’t let him go, not without forfeiting his own life, but he could put him in a holding cell separate from the more depraved criminals and give him a decent meal. The next morning, a mix-up had him in the court room being sentenced ahead of at least a hundred others, skipping what looked to be a three-day wait. There was only one punishment for stealing. Especially with the amount of goods Crow had been caught with. His generosity was one of the reasons his neighbors appreciated him. He was only thankful Gordy had fallen ill and hadn’t been with him; wasn’t dead now.

Crow finally relented as he heard hurried steps gaining on him. Closing the distance uphill against this wind took some determination. And Crow had never been mean or ill-spirited. He couldn’t turn his back on someone so eager to catch up to him. He waited until the neighbor was almost upon him.

He turned, surprised to see a stranger’s face. And not a kind one. Crow smiled at the cruel humor of it. He was just Crow now.

“They really call you Lucky?” the stranger asked, panting slightly from the effort of catching up. A threat was weaved into the words. There would be a reckoning if he didn’t like the answer. Crow suspected this man didn’t enjoy the answers to most of his questions.

“Sure,” Crow answered, looking over the stranger with a suspicious eye. He had a wide jaw and heavy brow, and eyes and mouth that looked like they’d forgotten how to do anything but scowl. His skin was rough- though from weather or drugs, Crow couldn’t tell.

“Heh,” the stranger laughed with a nasty gleam in his eye. “Well, you’ve been pardoned. Lucky.”

One side of the stranger’s mouth was pulled into a wicked smile. Crow imagined that’s all the joy his face could manage. A meaty fist held a scroll out to Crow. It was a hand that was used to cause pain and hull dead weight, and hadn’t the skill for penning fancy letters. An odd choice for a messenger. Or perhaps all death pardons came straight from the assigned executioner. A brush with death making the pardon more poignant.

Crow reached out hesitantly, half-expecting the stranger to lop off his hand. And when he looked down at the scroll, Crow wished that this had been the stranger’s purpose.

Though he had never seen such a thing before, the scroll was unmistakable. It was crisp, white paper kept rolled with silver wax which had been stamped with a roaring lion seal.

So much for not owing any debts.

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