It had been around two weeks since school started, and Melodie was happy to note that Castiel, Balthazar, and Dean had already gotten extremely close and could be described as best friends—maybe even brothers. The only times the three didn’t get along like they usually did was during lunch and recess, when Castiel would come into the classroom and spend some quality time with his teacher, and the other two boys would flirt happily with their female classmates.
One day, however, Dean came into the classroom right as recess started, looking uncharacteristically dejected. Melodie watched him patter up to her desk with his head hanging and tiny, soft sniffles sounding from him. She immediately slipped from her chair and knelt at her desk, taking him into her arms when he finally reached her.
“My sweet baby boy, what’s wrong?” she asked gently, stroking the back of his head.
Dean sniffled and hugged her, trying to speak and failing. Eventually, though, he managed to stutter out, “B-B-B-Balthy a-and C-Cassie are p-playing a g-game a-and they said I couldn’t p-play with th-them!”
“Oh, my precious boy,” she cooed, holding him tighter. “It’s okay, sweet thing. Sometimes brothers just need time to themselves to play, okay? It doesn’t mean that they don’t want to play with you, or don’t like you anymore. They just need time to themselves. I’ll tell you what, though. While they’re playing, why don’t we do something special?”
Dean nodded enthusiastically and immediately brightened. “Yeah!”
“What would you like to do, precious boy? We can play a game, or draw, or paint…”
Like a snake striking, Dean’s lips suddenly touched to hers, and she yelped, pulling back. Both were blushing, him in shyness and her in shock, and she panted, trying to remember just how thinking worked.
After a very long, very quiet pause, she pushed him back a little, holding him firmly and giving him a matching stare. “Dean, precious boy, I… I’m very flattered that you like me, but… I… that can’t work, okay, sweet baby boy? We can’t… we can’t do that, okay? You have to promise not to do that anymore.”
Looking crestfallen, Dean’s head dropped and he nodded solemnly. “I promise, Ms. Mayrose.”
Melodie gave a sigh of relief and pulled out a blank piece of baby, setting it in front of him along with a box of markers. “All right, precious boy, why don’t we draw a pretty picture to put up on the wall?”
He nodded wistfully, but with a little more pep than before. He took the black marker and began drawing and coloring, while Melodie busied herself with finishing her lunch.
She heard the sound of the marker drop and looked up, getting a good look at the picture. It looked like a stick figure surrounded by fire.
“… Precious boy, what is that?” she asked cautiously.
“My mommy,” he answered, his voice strangely devoid of emotion.
“Why… why is she in a fire, sweet thing?”
“That’s how she died.”
It was the first day of school and most of the children were one of two things: excited or completely unwilling to detach themselves from their parents. Ms. Mayrose weaved through her new students and greeted each and every one, cooing to the crying ones comfortingly and gently prying the clinging ones from their parents. The well-behaved children, and the excited ones, happily returned her greetings and toddled their way to the classroom when she pointed them in the right direction.
Ms. Mayrose, or Melodie, quickly noticed three specific children. A single father with a four or five year old and a one year old was off the the side, talking to the eldest boy, and the boy was nodding enthusiastically. The third child, a boy of around the same age, was all alone away from everyone else, looking confused, scared, and out of place. Melodie sighed and made her way over to him, kneeling in front of him.
“Hello, precious boy,” she started quietly, smiling. “What’s your name, baby?”
The boy looked up at her and blinked his big, bright blue eyes. “Castiel,” he whimpered, bringing his fingers up to his mouth and sucking on them nervously.
“Castiel? That is the most handsome name I have ever heard,” Melodie cooed, swooping him up into her arms and holding him protectively. “Perfect for the most handsome little boy I’ve ever seen,” she continued, taking him into her classroom and sitting him close to her desk.
When she looked back up, the older of the two boys she’d seen earlier was walking in, obviously nervous but trying hard to appear confident. Melodie noticed almost immediately that there was an almost defiant tilt to his chin, a spirited glint in his eyes.
Curiously, Melodie met him half way and smiled warmly as she knelt in front of him. “Hello, precious boy. What’s your name?”
The boy looked up at her with startling green-hazel eyes and paused before saying firmly, “Dean.”
“Dean? That’s a wonderful name,” she told him, picking him up gently and carrying him over to the same table she’d put Castiel. Dean was cautious at first, but quickly warmed up to the other boy and eagerly sat next to him. Castiel, on the other hand, shied away.
With a sigh, Melodie knelt beside Castiel’s seat and enveloped his tiny hand in hers. “It’s okay, Castiel, darling. This is Dean. He’s your tablemate, okay? He’s very sweet, and he’ll be very nice to you, okay?” The boy nodded unsurely, shooting Dean a demure glance before turning back to Melodie and nestling his cheek in her chest.
After a tiny yelp of surprise, Melodie patted his head before gently pulling him from her breast. “Sweetie, you’ll be fine, I promise.” She smiled and turned him to face Dean, who looked Castiel over curiously. “See? He wants to be your friend!”
Dean nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah!”
“See, my darling? He’ll be your friend, okay?”
Castiel gave a small, bashful nod, then pulled away from her, leaning in closer to Dean. Almost instantly, Dean was talking, and Castiel was listening intently.
When she stood up straight and turned towards her desk, another little boy was standing there, watching her keenly.
“And who are you, Precious?”
“Balthazar,” he answered with a hint of a flirtatious tone.
Surprised, Melodie nodded and swept him up into her arms, sitting him across from Castiel.
She was further intrigued when the shy Castiel automatically greeted Balthazar warmly, hugging him. She heard the word “brother” and understood.
Melodie was sure to keep an eye on the three boys throughout the day, noting how they interacted with each other. They played well, mostly, and discussed what she could only describe as little boy things—probably cars or dinosaurs or cowboys and Indians…
She was a bit stunned when, during lunch, the shy little Castiel came to her and tugged on her skirt. Looking down, Melodie smiled and pulled him up into her lap. “Why aren’t you outside with your friends, precious boy?” she asked lightly, hugging her arms around him.
“Balthazar and Dean are more interested in girls…” he grumbled, pouting.
“Oh, precious boy. They’ll come to their senses.” She squeezed a little in a brief hug, then reached into her desk and pulled out a piece of paper and a pack of markers. “Want to color with me instead, sweetie?”
He nodded enthusiastically and went straight for the light blue marker, popping the top off and drawing a rectangle that he filled with a bird. She pulled out the pink marker and drew a simple flower while he worked, only looking up when he seemed finished.
“What’s that, darling?” she asked affectionately, looking over it.
“It’s a flag,” he replied, staring at his work proudly.
“A flag for what, precious boy?”
He shrugged. “Heaven.”
Giggling, Melodie pulled away from her own work, holding him closely. “You think Heaven needs a flag, precious?” He nodded. “I couldn’t agree more, darling, and I think that flag is perfect.”
He beamed and slid from her legs, grabbing the paper and toddling back outside, hopefully to show his brother and new friend his masterpiece.
When I’m involved, people don’t seem to understand the phrase, “I’m on vacation, I’m sleeping in.” I’d arrived in Jamaica the night before, set my alarm clock, and gone to bed… only to have my travel partner waltz into my room three hours before my alarm was supposed to go off and wake me up by dumping ocean water all over my hair.
I yelped and scrambled to a sitting position, breathing heavily and glaring. “Goddamnit, Marlene!” I screeched, wiping the water away. “I wanted to sleep in!”
She shrugged and left the room, while I went into the shower and got dressed, slipping a surprise for Marlene into my pocket after a moment of thought.
I made my way down to the lobby and looked up at the big, intricate clock on the wall that read 10:27, then stepped into the small but crowded dining room, finding Marlene easily.
“I set my alarm for 1:00, bitch,” I grumbled.
“No, you never set me for one!” she cackled, taking a bite of toast.
Muttering to myself, I pulled the ‘surprise’ from my pocket and dropped it on her head with a small clink.
“Ow,” she whined, catching it in her hands. It was just a pocket watch I’d gotten her, but it had served its purpose—for me, at least.
I was never one for superstitions. I don’t like scary movies. I don’t care about urban legends. I don’t enjoy ghost stories. I never got into Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, or Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve never seen the Exorcist, the Omen, or the Birds. To me, Jaws, Poltergeist, and Hellraiser are all Child’s Play (excuse the lame joke).
I only knew the Raven because of my American Literature class. We had to analyze it, and come up with our own interpretations. Because I didn’t care, I took it literally. It wasn’t too far-fetched that a raven would be at someone’s window, right? And, after all, ravens can learn to speak. Maybe someone just taught it the word “nevermore.” Why wouldn’t they? It’s a cool word.
Obviously, I failed that assignment. At the time, I could not find a single fuck to give. I had better things to do, like practice figure skating or playing soccer with my friends.
Well, I didn’t care until a raven started following me, squawking “nevermore” like a broken record that was never good to begin with. At first I figured it was just a coincidence. Maybe some smartass had taught it to say just that word, and the bird had just left, and heard me say the one word it knew, so it just followed me around. That wasn’t too crazy an assumption, right?
Then it started getting creepy. It literally went everywhere with me, and if it couldn’t get to me, it would wait patiently until it could. What was worse was no one else seemed to notice it. I had a giant black bird following me, and it seemed to be invisible.
I wasn’t insane, right?
I was starting to think maybe I should tell someone about this hallucination when one of my friends came up to me and said, “Hey, you know there’s a raven following you, right?”
I was so relieved I didn’t answer at first; then I slowly nodded.
“It’s been hanging around for a few weeks now. I can’t get rid of it.”
“Oh, you don’t want to get rid of it. That’s… His pet. If it’s following following, that means you’ve been chosen.”
This had to be an intricate prank. Had to be. “Really? Who’s he? God?”
My friend didn’t seem amused. “No, no, not God. Worse.”
“… You’re telling me the Devil’s pet bird is following me around because I’ve been chosen?” I asked mockingly.
He gave me a disbelieving stare and walked away, leaving me alone with the bird, who seemed to be silently insulting me.
That night, though, I had a weird dream… A dream that wasn’t quite a dream. I was alone in a gray mist, until the raven flew down and perched on a convenient branch just in front of me. Slowly, a figure draped in black rose from the fog, and simply stared at me.
Then it screamed, loud and wailing, and it sounded dreadfully similar to my alarm clock—
Oh. I’d woken up. Maybe that was why. Rubbing my head, I made my way to the bathroom and yelped to see that I had a bloody nose—and that stupid raven was sitting on the bathroom counter, silently taunting me with its beady, black eyes.
I grabbed some toilet paper and held it to my nose, then absentmindedly, kindly ruffled the bird’s head feathers while I waited for the bleeding to stop. May as well enjoy the company, right?
Once the bleeding stopped, I turned to the doorway to see the cloaked figure from my dream reach out to grab me.
“You’ve been chosen.”