(A/N: My first original fic in ages! Ok, it's not all original; this story is inspired by Annabel Lee and The Raven, two poems by Edgar Allan Poe, and does have a few Poe references in it. Anyway, hope you enjoy it.)
The sea churned violently against the jagged rocks at the foot of a cliff, at the top of which, on the grass which was a kind of green that could have only come to be from complete and utter lack of pollution, sat a young man, no more than seventeen years of age, his black hair, longer at the top of his head, was brushed to one side and he wore a white shirt underneath a black blazer with matching trousers and shoes. His legs dangled carelessly off the edge of the extremely high precipice and he leant back on his hands, looking up at the clear sky, the sun beating down on him and the small village behind. He noticed a curious shape amongst the thinning clouds, it wasn't a bird or anything he recognised, and he watched it as it came closer and closer and the closer it came the clearer it was to the boy what the object was. The top three quarters of the contraption was the shape of an upturned cone, and the lower half looked like some sort of platform attached to the rest of it – it was a balloon! Of course, it was obvious now as he watched it fly overhead, little more than a hundred feet in the sky, before it disappeared back into the clouds above the village.
The boy, whose name was Jack, continued to stare into the sky, he let his mind wander. He daydreamed fancy unto fancy, about he himself becoming mayor of his hometown, as little and as quaint as it was he would like nothing more than to rule his own little kingdom by the sea. If only he had someone worthy enough to rule by his side.
He stood and stretched his arms, he inhaled the fresh sea breeze that flowed over his face and smiled before turning to the small cobbled path that led back down the hill to the village. He passed the gigantic lighthouse, which sat atop the hill, and made his way down, his hands in his pockets. Checking his pocket watch, Jack saw it was a little past five o'clock in the afternoon; he'd been on the cliff edge all night and day just staring out at the sea, watching the stars. The only activity he'd seen was the queer-looking balloon, but nevertheless it had still been worthwhile to sit and stare and think and do nothing at all but dream about his kingdom by the sea. He followed the path and passed a post on which a stately raven had perched itself before he entered the village. The streets were wide and there were no definitions between road and pavement, simply because there were no other modes of transport other than walking and cycling.
Jack knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He was well liked in the village – a helpful, sweet, polite and very nice young man – and had many girls vying for his affections, yet he had no interest in any of them. No, his interest was purely in his imaginings and in the curious ways of the world around him. As most boys his age would ponder how to make themselves more attractive to the opposing gender, Jack would wonder why birds flocked to the same place in the village square, why insects scuttle in the funny way they do – it seemed to him that the most trivial of things were the most important, or at least the most interesting.
The raven he'd passed had left its perch and had flown ahead of Jack, and landed on the roof of the bakery a little way ahead of him. Jack had befriended the bird, or, rather, the bird had befriended Jack, for it was the raven who had found the boy several weeks ago and made a seemingly cognisant decision to follow him like a faithful pet, though it would never follow the boy indoors, for that was a sign, portending death. People thought it strange, that a wild animal would follow a person around in that manner, but Jack showed as much interest in the thoughts of others as he did in the girls who would try almost every day to impress him enough for him to make one of them his girlfriend.
The young man smiled and waved at his uncle as he passed the bakery window. His uncle owned the little shop, which was the only bakery in the village, and he was a wealthy man for it. But not as wealthy as he could be, for Vincent – Jack's uncle – had a brother named Timothy, who was Jack's father. Timothy, or Tim, as he preferred to be called, was the mayor of the little parish and Vincent donated as much money as he could spare on a regular basis to his brother, so he could keep the village in the unblemished condition it's always been in. For five long years Tim had been mayor, and the village had never been better off.
There wasn't a single factory in the entire village, the only smoke that ever came out of the community was from chimneys, and it was very little smoke at that. This was a unique place; no other part of the country was as beautiful, lush and as clean as this small hamlet on the edge of practically nowhere. The nearest city was a day's horse ride away, and no one has made that journey for seven whole years. One Hans Lichtenstein was the last man who did, and no one had heard from him since. The more persistent rumour going around was that he had died before even leaving the forest that cut the village off from the rest of the country.
The Black Wood was the name of the forest, given because even in the daytime, even in the warmest, sunniest day of summer the shadows within the woods unremittingly stay the blackest of black. Nothing else is as dark as these shadows, and many people believe that evil spirits and dangerous creatures lurk behind them. There are stories of people going missing in the forest – killed by an animal, made insane or scared to death by the spirits. Though others believe that those who have gone missing had merely lost their way and starved to death.
The raven took off once again, into the light breeze, and soared over the street below before descending once more and landing on the perch that Jack had staked into the small patch of grass outside the living room window of the cottage he lived in with his parents. Jack followed the bird and petted it softly as he passed and entered the house.
"I don't care about his money," It was Tim, he was on the telephone and Jack knew it would be wise to not disturb him, "he's not brining any of that here!" Jack couldn't help but pause. He almost never heard his father raise his voice even the slightest, but Tim had just barked down the phone with ferocity Jack never knew he had. "What?" Tim snapped. "No, I don't care who he his, how much money he has or who his friends are. He is not, I repeat, not bringing anything of that sort back to my village. End of discussion." There was a slight pause. "I don't know what you're going to tell him, and frankly I don't care. It's your problem." And with that he slammed the receiver down into its cradle, sighing irritably. Jack peered into his office from the hallway and looked at his father, who was sitting in his large leather chair behind a mahogany desk.
"Hi dad…I couldn't help but overhear, what's going on?" Timothy glanced at his son and leant back, running his fingers through his light brown hair.
"It's alright…just some stubborn metropolitan people. They want to come to the village and build a factory here as well as a road connecting to the city."
"And you said no?" Tim reached into his desk drawer and took out a clay pipe and tin.
"You heard, didn't you?" He replied, taking tobacco out of the tin. Jack watched his father stuff the brown substance into his pipe before lighting it.
"I thought you quit smoking…" Jack said, a tone of sadness in his voice. He always hated his father smoking, it was unhealthy for everyone and it smelled horrid.
"I did…but these people have been calling all day every fifteen minutes – it's wearing on my nerves."
"Look Jack, I know you're concerned, and I'm grateful, but I'm not going to smoke as much as I used to. It's just to relieve anxiety, that's all." The air slowly began to fill with thick clouds of dry, ashen smog, which rose to the ceiling and hung sickeningly in the air. Jack could take it no longer; as the haze of tobacco smoke slowly began to creep into the hallway he shut the door and made his way upstairs, as far away from the horrendous and vile smell as he could go without leaving the house.
The raven, previously on the perch below, had flown up to the sill outside Jack's window, overlooking the street. The bird waited patiently for its friend to open it, which he did as soon as he entered the room. It didn't go through the window, but rather it stayed on the sill, watching Jack with a curious eye as he took out a small plastic bag from under his bed. He dipped his hand into the bag and took out half a handful of breadcrumbs before placing them on the windowsill in a small pile. Jack smiled and watched the raven happily peck at the heap. He wished his existence could be so simple and carefree, that all he had to worry about was where he would get his next meal. His little friend didn't even have to worry about that, he knew he could get his food from Jack, so his life was even more comfortable and untroubled than other birds of his kind.
As the bird fed, Jack watched the street. It was always fairly quiet, but today seemed a little quieter than usual. Usually there would be a horse and cart going by every ten minutes or so; Jack hadn't seen one all day, even when he was outside. But then it was a nice day, so some people probably went off into the fields with their children, wives or girlfriends.
"Girlfriends…" He sighed heavily. Now, you might think it odd that Jack would show no sign of interest in the girls that coveted him yet yearn for a girlfriend. The truth was, he was only interested in one girl, and he found it deeply frustrating that he didn't know who this girl was.
By now the raven had finished and was watching him yet again with the same curious eye as before, as if pondering Jack's thoughts. Again, Jack found himself thinking that his friends' love life would be less complicated than anything else that was expected of him. But this time he didn't wish to be like the raven, simply because he wanted to experience love and he wanted to find this one girl, this image of beauty he couldn't rid his mind of, not that he wished to. He imagined a girl of fair skin, with a glow that only a seraph would have; her eyes were large and deep, something Jack longed to drown in; her hair, also fair, flowed down to her waist like the most perfect river imaginable; and her smile, warm and as beautiful as the rest of her, and something which only served to intensify her angel-like glow further. Suddenly, and somewhat unfairly, Jack was torn from his imaginings by a knocking on his door, followed by his mother entering the room.
"Jack, dinner's ready." She said rather plainly. Jack nodded and got to his feet before placing some more bread on the windowsill and setting the bag down on the floor.
"Are you ok, mum?" His mother, whose name was Adelaide, pushed her curly, shoulder-length hair behind her ear and gave a weak smile to her son.
"Yes, I'm fine." Jack didn't believe her, and she didn't expect him to. Despite how well turned-out and happy they all seemed to be they always swept their personal problems under the floorboards, especially if it was between Tim and Adelaide. Jack didn't have many problems, though he wouldn't, being only seventeen in a place where even a thirty year old didn't have much to worry about. He watched his mother leave the room quietly, something was bothering her; he just wished he knew what he could do to help.
Three days went by, things seemed to get better in the house. Adelaide had cheered but Tim continued to smoke and was still irritable. He barely spoke at dinner, and whenever Jack or Adelaide tried talking to him he either ignored them or snapped. But it appeared as if he had dealt with the city people, so that was a good thing.
Every morning since, Jack had sat out by the lighthouse on the cliff edge and looked over the sea. He hadn't seen that strange contraption again, but that was only a minor thing. No, he was only interested in the sea and the horizon. It was beautiful at sunrise, he felt like it was the only thing that could give him solace, that when he stared at the rising sun nothing else mattered. He could lose himself in the scenery and just forget everything. There wasn't much to forget, but forgetting even the smallest thing was refreshing, and it felt good.
It was on one of those mornings that something happened, something that quite literally shook the village. Jack was sitting on the edge of the cliff as he usually did, with his raven friend next to him as silent as ever. He'd never heard the bird caw or make any noise at all, it was a little odd for a wild animal but then again it was nice he wasn't as loud as other birds. The only noise Jack could hear was the churning of the sea as it crashed against the cliffside below, it was very soothing, he could listen to it every waking second he had. Unfortunately that ideal was swiftly crushed as whirring and rumbling sounds came from the forest beyond the village. Quickly, he got to his feet and hurried down the cobbled pathway, the raven promptly followed him down to the village where people were standing in the main street yelling and panicking.
"What's that noise?" Jack shouted as the noise steadily got louder and louder.
"It's an earthquake!" An old woman cried out as soon as the ground started to tremble. The noise was almost deafening, even as Vincent, Jack's uncle, yelled in his ear it was still hard to hear what was being said. Vince gave up and simply turned his nephew's head to face the thick, dark plume of smog that was slowly rising above the rooftops.
"Fire?" Jack mouthed to his uncle, who shook his head, grabbed the young boy by the wrist and dragged him through the crowd of terror-stricken people to the other side of the village. As they neared the town's edge, a large metallic structure rose above the rooftops just as the smog had, as they neared the structure the ground shook more violently and loud, heavy mechanisms could be heard clanking and groaning. They ran through a narrow alleyway and came out on the outside of the village, in front of a gigantic metal beast, wheezing black pollution into the blue sky above.
This mechanical behemoth stood just a little higher than an average house, it was rectangular and, even though they were looking at it from the front, the thing seemed to be very long and it glimmered almost blindingly in the sunlight. A three-foot column stood at the front of the giant metal box and there were two large blacked-out windows at the front, nothing else; other than those two things it was just a large, moving metal box.
It stopped, just metres in front of them, and the noise and trembling ceased as soon as it did though it continued to spew its noxious fumes from the metal chimney. Nothing happened for several minutes as the mechanics slowly wound down and stopped completely. The rest of the villagers started to flock around the structure, whispering amongst each other – no one had ever seen anything like this before, it was interesting to most and rather scary to others, especially the children and older members of the community. Suddenly, a loud hissing noise followed by more clanking came from the machine and a cloud of steam rose from the top, but not from the chimney. Then a figure stepped out from the vapour, wiping his face with a handkerchief. The shirt he wore was wrinkled and hung outside of his trousers and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. The man walked to the edge of the contraption and grinned down at the villagers who stared, dumbfounded, up at him.
"My friends!" He cheered. "I, Hans Lichtenstein, have returned to you with something that will change your lives for the better, forever!"
(A/N: Hope you liked it. The next chapter will come as soon as I can write it. Thanks for reading!)