Part 1: The Raven and the Ghost

116 5 37

Mr. MacBranain; like any strong, healthy man of 45 in the 1890s, died soon after his arrival in America, leaving behind a very pious widow and ten very pious children.

The eldest of these children, a boy named Michael, was a kindhearted young man, and the sole male provider left to his family. This was a problem for many reasons. One of them being that he'd heard his new home in New York City was a place of darkness, and sin, and depravity, and Michael knew hungry devils surely lurked in its shadows—as any reasonable person would.

Michael was also very superstitious.

But he had made a vow to his father upon his deathbed to be strong and care for his mother and sisters. And although unsure of the first one, he knew he could do his best and try for the second.

Thus, after an appropriately pious time of mourning, Michael kissed his mum and each of his nine sisters (which took some time) and, with his father's rosary clutched to his chest, stood at the door to their tiny basement apartment.

"You'll see," he promised cheerfully (though his teeth chattered), "I'll have found work by this evenin' "

And also, "Pray that I am not eaten by devils."


The Devil may not have been waiting for Michael as he exited into the cloud tinted sunlight, but darkness most certainly was—or at least something dark-colored anyway.

For there, perched on his neighbor's laundry line, was a raven, black as sin and night. And it was facing his doorway. Staring at him with dark, intelligent eyes. A sure sign of bad times to come.

The boy threw a shoe at it (the most sensible thing to do), and it flew away indignantly.

Still, Michael could not shake the sudden feeling of foreboding as he went to collect his footwear.

And indeed, the raven was just the beginning.

The first person he applied to was a small neighborhood grocer, who was apparently in need of a clerk. Michael could read, do figures, move boxes, and was rather good with people. Still, the shopkeeper turned him away as soon as he heard his accent, saying he could not abide to employ an idolatrous Catholic.

The farrier he approached observed with a surprising eloquence that redheads were bad luck and, quite likely, the spawn of Satan.

The dockworkers, it turned out, simply did not like his face.

Michael would have defended his face (as his mother thought it handsome, and Mum was never wrong) but was interrupted when a scream--a scream from very nearby--split the air.

"MARY!!" a woman shrieked. "IT GOT MARY!!!"

Turning to see what the commotion was, Michael and the dockworkers observed what looked to be a rag-picker (judging by the nearby cart), kneeling halfway between the shadows of an alleyway and the gray light of the clouded sky. Her face streamed with dirty tears, and she was cradling another, less-than-reputable-looking young woman in her arms.

Already a small crowd of observers—sailors, dockworkers, little thieves, and soon-to-be-passengers—had gathered to gawk at the horror. And a horror it was indeed.

The woman in her arms had flesh pale as bone. Her limbs were stiff, and her eyes vacant and glassy. Her head was tilted at an angle, as though frozen while gazing upward in anguished prayer. Her face...

Her face was the worst of all, wearing an expression of utter despair, so exaggerated and contorted as to almost look like a cartoon in a newspaper. Her caked on makeup looked like blood and bruises pouring down her face as tears, and her soulless eyes seemed to stare right at Michael. Or perhaps right through him toward something darker. Begging. Praying.

Mr. Mortality & the Heart CollectorRead this story for FREE!