House Of Ravens
By Rachel McMillen
Emily Caruthers snipped the last thread from the loom, carried the finished piece over to the table and laid it out. It was good work. The edges were straight, the interlocking threads of warp and weft smooth and tight, the colors rich, the textures leading the eye as they curved and swirled within the pattern. Here a river flowedpast a grassy bank. There, the glint of rapids over smooth rocks. A glimpse of speckled fish deep within a pool. The eye of Raven glittering within a stand of cedar.
He shouldn’t have been there of course. She shouldn’t have let him come out, but perhaps it didn’t matter. The pieces she wove were for the tourists who bought her work from the local galleries, leaving behind the money that allowed her to survive the long dark days of winter. They would never notice that quick, bright eye as it peered out at them.
She glanced quickly at the door she kept closed and locked. They were getting stronger. She could hear them muttering in the daytime now. Their calls were louder, their laughter more raucous, their demands more insistent. She didn’t know if she could keep them in much longer, but she feared what would happen if they broke out. They didn’t belong to her. She had no right to them.
She rolled up the new piece and carried it across to the sink, carefully avoiding passing too close to the locked door. She had been here almost five years and knew she could never leave. She had known it was her home the instant she arrived, driven by loss and grief and some unknown yearning. She spent a week wandering the streets, staring at the soaring totem poles that should have looked alien, but instead were only familiar. She roamed the windswept beaches, hearing the faint whisper of ancient voices in the swaying branches of the trees. She explored the lazy, green river, lost herself in the old village, and then the house had found her.
She hadn’t been looking for it. She had simply felt its presence behind her as she sat on a piece of driftwood amongst the tall seagrass at the edge of the inlet. She had turned, and a flash of sunlight from an open window had called her in. The door had been open, and as she neared, an old man appeared.
“You’ve come to look at the house.”
It was a statement, not a question, and she found herself nodding.
“Yes,” she said, as she stepped inside.
The house was perfect: small and cozy, with a brick fireplace and wood floors polished by years of footsteps and love. There was no garden, just a narrowstone path that led from the front door down to the beach, and both the kitchen and living room windows faced the ocean beyond. There was even a light-filled studio, its windows looking out through the trees to the curve of the inlet. The walls of the studio were covered with sketches and two tables held an array of carved masks. The air was full of the pungent smell of cedar, mixed with turpentine and paint. An unfinished painting sat on an easel in the center of the room and she walked over to look at it. It showed a raven looking down from a spruce tree to the shore below, and she thought she had never seen a painting so vivid and life-like.
“Is this yours?” she asked the old man, who was still standing in the doorway.
He shrugged. “They say it is,” he answered. “But I’m never sure.”
She smiled. “I know what you mean. I’m a weaver. Sometimes I don’t have any idea where the patterns come from.”
They looked at the rest of the house together, and then returned to the kitchen.
“You like it,” he said.
“I love it,” she replied as she looked wistfully at the tiled counters and the bright crockery stacked on the shelves. “But I don’t have enough money to buy it. My husband was sick for a long time. I don’t have much left now.”
They walked back towards the door and she stepped out and turned to him. “I’m sorry. It would be perfect.”
He nodded. “You have enough. Go and see Margaret tomorrow. She will help you.”
She frowned. “Margaret?”
“My grand-daughter. She’s a real estate agent. She has an office in town.”
“Oh,” she said, looking out over the swaying grass to the water lapping on the beach. “Well, I don’t want to waste her time, but thank you anyway.”
She turned to offer her hand, but the door had closed.
But she did go and see Margaret. The next day the office seemed to appear right in front of her as she left her lodging. Chiding herself for her stupidity, she pushed open the door. A slim woman with longblack hair rose from the desk and came to greet her.
“Welcome,” she said. “My name is Margaret. What can I help you with?”
Emily smiled and shook her head. “I really shouldn’t be bothering you, but I saw this house yesterday, and the owner suggested I come and talk to you.” She shrugged. “I know I can’t afford to buy it, but perhaps I could rent?”
“Perhaps.” Margaret sounded doubtful. “Where was the house?”
Emily pointed. “Maybe a mile down that trail. It’s the only house there.”
Margaret looked at her intently, her expression cautious. “You spoke with the owner?”
“Yes. He was such a nice man – and his paintings and carvings are amazing. He showed me through the house.”
Margaret got up and went to the door. “Would you mind waiting here for a moment? I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later she returned, accompanied by an older man.
“You’re interested in Chinaay’s house?” he said.
“Well, yes, if that’s the owner’s name,” Emily stammered. “But as I told Margaret, I can’t afford to buy it, only to rent.”
The man ignored her statement. “You liked his paintings?”
She smiled. “Oh yes! The one he’s working on is magnificent.”
He bent his head to stare at her. “Which painting was that?” he asked.
She frowned. “I don’t know if it had a name,” she answered. “It was a raven. It was sitting in a spruce tree, looking out over the inlet.”
The man straightened up and glanced at Margaret before moving deeper into the office and opening a door.
“Did it look like this?” he asked, nodding his head towards something Emily couldn’t see.
She moved slowly across the room to join him. Her eyes followed his gaze to the wall beyond, and her breath froze in her throat. The painting that hung on the wall was unmistakably the same painting she had seen in the house, but now it was finished, every detail of the shore perfect, every rock and blade of grass shaded and outlined, every ripple of water caught with light, and the raven so vibrant with life it appeared ready to fly off the canvas.
“That’s it!” she exclaimed. Her voice faltered. “But he couldn’t have finished it overnight. Was he making a copy?”
The man stared at her and then seemed to make a decision.
“No,” he said. “There are no copies. That’s the original. My grandfather took almost a year to create it, and he died the day after it was framed.”
She stared at him. “But I don’t understand! I talked to him yesterday, and it wasn’t finished.” She looked at Margaret again, a pleading look on her face. “It must have been someone else.”
Margaret reached down and picked up a framed photograph from her desk. She looked at it for a second, and then held it out. “Is this who you spoke with?” she asked. Emily took the photo with trembling hands. The face that looked out at her was the face she had seen the day before.
Everything moved swiftly after that. Margaret insisted that Emily revisit the house and warned her that it wouldn’t look the same. She was both right and wrong. It looked a little older, felt less alive. The studio was empty, the carvings and paintings all gone, but as she trailed her fingers along the stained wooden surfaces Emily felt a subtle shift in the air. The house was coming alive around her. As she walked past the open door, she heard a raven call.
The price was lower than Emily had believed possible and although it took almost everything she had, she didn’t hesitate. She moved in a week later. The Ravens were already there.