Mother of Crow – Chapter ? – The day after the day after –

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

Chapter (?) – the day after the day after

Last updated: June 8, 2021 at 6:03 am

“Got it!”
Mal’s raspy exclamation drifted across the dusty floor and drew Bird’s attention for a moment. It wouldn’t stick though, the attention. It never did stick for long. It kind of lingered in the periphery like a sticky cloud of curiosity that Bird didn’t much care for. He refused to get distracted. He had things to do.
There was something living under the floor. He was certain of it. It wasn’t very likely. Right now, he had his head lowered to a slight gap between dusty floorboards, twitched his head this way and that, listening hard. It was something to do. Mal wouldn’t let him touch the tools, so why bother? But he couldn’t stop himself from glancing at the mechanic and the stupid machine. It took him three seconds to get over his pride. “Again?” he said through his mechanical voice box. Despite his voice being artificial , the large black bird nonetheless managed to convey a certain tone. Sarcasm? But it was not quite that. It was something between awe and utter mockery of Mal’s abilities. Mal himself couldn’t hear that specific note so he answered Bird without a trace of rebuke. “Yes, as before when I had it. I have it now. Just the other way. Like it should.” He grunted and moved some thing or other to attach it elsewhere or maybe back to where it was, Who knew.
“Right,” Bird said. He curled his restless feet around a roundish rock that happened to lie beneath his feet. He spread his wings best he could considering one was badly healed and crooked. He balanced atop the rock for all of three seconds before it rolled away from him. He dropped to the dusty floor and immediately forgot the rock. “Got it.”
“Don’t mind if you do,” Mal said and pushed a button. Something sputtered foul grease and a spark tore through the air toward Bird who jumped back, screeched, and retreated.
Mal wiped soot from his face and stuck his head in the machine insides in front of him. “Definitely got it,” he muttered. “Got it backwards. That’s what I’ve got. Got it turned about-somewhere. Somewhere here.” Mal’s voice, a distorted echoing muttering from where he stood with his head and one arm inside an automaton carrier. The machine was one of the two that Gabriel had brought from his late mother’s machine park in Dead River. Since its last desperate-and in the end pointless-rush along the train tracks, carrying Mal and Bird to what they thought was a rescue mission, the carrier had started acting up. Bird and Madame-the other automaton in their company-had managed to coax the difficult helper robot back along the train track and into one of the empty estates littering the desolate countryside. As soon as they’d maneuvered the machine into the stable, it had turned itself effectively deaf and lame. That’s where it stood now.

Mal hadn’t seen anything broken. But things that didn’t run were broken and therefore by definition fixable. And that is what Mal did. He fixed things. If he had to adapt and adjust and modify things to make that happen, that’s what he did. He pulled himself out of the carrier and scratched his chin thoughtfully. He placed a hand on the top of the carrier and kept it there as he walked around it. He placed both hands on the rotating disc that didn’t rotate. He traced the edge along where blinking lights were supposed to blink. He traced the bottom edge of the carrier, with a foot until he found the place . He gripped the disc harder, drew back his foot, and kicked the carrier. A clunk sounded, then a hiss. Mal lowered his head, still holding on to the top of the carrier, and listened. The hissing stopped. After a moment, a second clunk. The lights around the disc came on one by one and the disc started turning. After an introductory squeal it settled into its slow rotation with a whispering. With one ear toward the sound, Mal gave it a few seconds and then he nodded. He made his way around the machine and slammed the access hatch closed. It locked with a sharp snap. The carrier twitched, shuddered, and stilled. Mal took a short step backwards. Then another. He stopped and stood still for a long moment. He rubbed his chin with forefinger and thumb permanently blackened by machine grime and grease. Suddenly he threw his arm back to point at Bird who stood watching. The scruffy black bird walked to stand next to Mal who swung his arm to point to a spot several paces to the side of the carrier. Bird skipped to the indicated spot. He stared at the carrier and after some consideration moved farther away.

“Ready?” Mal breathed into the stillness.

Bird didn’t answer. Perhaps he was wondering why he was the one that always got the shitty, stress-full, and potentially actually almost always-potentially fatal jobs. But if he did, he didn’t give it much weight in the big scheme of things. He trampled the floor and glared at the carrier. Bird willed the idiot thing to be nice.

Mal took one more step back and nodded at Bird.

The space that they were in Might be called a barn and from the outside very much looked the part. A sturdy wooden structure sized to accommodate up to twenty horses in stalls at one end of the long building. The other half sectioned off for storing carriages, tack, and other necessities. At the very end was a small room to house a resident caretaker of the animals and all that they required. Above, a loft still half filled with hey. Two large doors, one on either end of the barn opened up to the entire space. One could see from one door to the other, inspecting all stalls at a glance. A smaller door for a single mount and rider, a man-door for the fine peoples at the front, and a smaller door for the resident groom were now closed tight. At the back , another door allowing access to a dung heap. The pile of horse-shit had been unused for some time before the world sundered. Weeds covered the mound and even before The Mother had decided to put the world in stasis, it had been little more than fodder for nature to have its way with the area behind the barn. The barn appeared to have been converted to machine hall in a haste. Although all stalls remained, they hadn’t hosted living horses for some time. The hey loft had never been emptied and any hey remaining, left to turn to mold and rodents to care for. Various bits of machinery had taken over where horses had once lived without consideration of suitability. Few creations resembled anything useful.
Now, at one end of the stable, near one of the big pair of doors, now open to a still morning and a view of a flat landscape of withered grass, sorry looking trees, and in the distance, a dull sheen of metal rails stretching away to vanish in a dusty blue haze of horizon. The morning was quiet. Silence didn’t mean it was safe. Bird would have preferred the doors to be closed, and hammered shut, and bolted, and… he didn’t know what could keep the Guardian patrols from finding hem. But whatever would do that; that was what he wanted. Bird clacked softly and rustled as he waited for the signal.
The carrier was a simple model and its name described its purpose perfectly. It carried things. It had little finesse, plenty of raw power, and was simple to operate. The workhorse of the age, it came when called. It could be loaded up with what two or three pack horses would have managed before the remaking and phantomthergy became the new way of things. Once packed, the carrier could be led by sound to where it needed to go. Walk ahead of it and it would follow your voice or any sound you decided to use. Like a whistle. It came to you if you spoke to it. In extreme cases, carriers were placed at the tail end of a train. As the train departed, the carrier followed. A well maintained and calibrated carrier would stop at a safe distance from its target where it would wait to be unloaded. Somewhere in this carrier’s life, that safety margin had been lost. Its variable speed had also at some point become constant. The new default speed was simply run-as-fast-as-possible. Mal had not thought that would qualify as a priority job. When Bird made a sound, the carrier would come. Bird would have to step away fast. It wasn’t ideal, but it had served them well enough so far.
Mal held up three fingers and Bird tensed. Mal folded one finger at a time and when Mal’s hand was a fist, Bird screeched. As the noise bounced around the stable walls, he jumped back, turned, and ran. The carrier came to life. It hummed, hissed, and raised its huge legs just as Bird got out of the way. It stomped and launched forward. Instantly, at full speed, it rushed across the floor. It punished the old wooden floor, running to where it needed to be. Away from the noise, not towards it. It ran toward the wall, and then through it. Withered wood planks tore and creaked , groaned in resistance for less time than it took the mechanic to realize what was happening. Splinters and years of caked on dust exploded in a roar of machine and stable wall attempting to become one in a cataclysm of misunderstanding. Then the carrier was through the wall, took one final step into the glaring light outside where it stopped. It stilled as suddenly as it had come to life, awaiting further instructions. The blinking censoring disk turned in and machinery clicked and settled in a cloud of dust and steam carrying the unmistakeable smell of burned corn husks. It waited.
Bird looked at the mechanic but left his voice box inactive for once.
Mal turned his head toward the gaping hole in the wall. He coughed and said, “All right,” he picked at some imaginary something stuck to his face and groped at it with ragged fingernails, “so, clearly the listening part works now. And the crashing and breaking shit in its way functions admirably.” He rubbed his face again.
“Yup,” bird said, “so it’s fixed now, that?”
Mal was silent for a moment while pulling vigorously on his lower lip and took a few slow quiet breaths as he considered Bird’s question. “Fixed,” Mal finally said, “why, certainly. Fixed absolutely. Did you think..?”
“Didn’t think nothing, I,” bird quickly said.
“Good, good. Because…,” Mal’s words trailed off into tense silence. He directed his hard-to-read empty eye sockets to the spot where Bird had stood a moment ago, which limited the effect of his awful stare somewhat. Bird was grateful.
Mal continued, “Because I know what I’m doing,” he concluded with an eye-less glare at that empty spot on the floor.
Bird shuffled back a little bit more, careful to not make a sound. However, his efforts were wasted when he spoke. Trying to come up with something to say that would actually be helpful he said, “Uh-huh!”
Mal’s empty eye-sockets pinned down Bird’s new location and turned to it like a whispviper registering vibrations from a careless spindel invading the viper’s elaborate trap.
Bird had seen a whispviper once, didn’t much care to experience it again, And right now Mal reminded Bird very much of one of the creepy remade snake species and he couldn’t stop a shiver from rustling the tips of his feathers. He carefully shuffled sideways, out of Mal’s stare that was not actually seeing at all. But it didn’t matter that Mal was blind. The dirty human didn’t even have any eyes left. Bird still felt that viper stare and didn’t much care for it. Sometimes he wondered about Mal. Momentarily perhaps, fleeting certainly, but he did now.
Mal focused on the new empty spot on the floor for another few moments as bird held his breath. Then the mechanic turned away, Suddenly he grinned and swept the floor around him with a foot to locate his pile of tools and other junk he claimed to need. “Okay, you little shit. You go outside, and chase that thing back in here,” he said, “out there the bloody finch-fuckers will see it and we’re all pigeon feed.” He picked up a sack of corn and waved it in the approximate direction of the stunned black bird. “Go on now, cracker-head, I don’t have all day.”
Bird, pondering for the second time that day how it was that the almost certainly fatal jobs were given to him without fail.
Mal, understanding bird’s hesitation, said, “You look like them, I don’t. They won’t kill one of their own. Now, get!”
Bird opened his beak to protest. Mal knew right damn well that Bird was the prime target for the guardians. He had escaped, had evaded them numerous times, had even managed to get the great white Owl blown up-well, it was Gabriel’s doing mostly but Bird had been helping- and Owl didn’t just want Bird dead. He wanted Bird deader than dead hundred times over, and butchered and plucked and broiled. That was how safe it was for Bird to go outside.
But Bird didn’t say any of that. He got to go get. They didn’t have all day, after all.


But they did have all day as it turned out. And most of a weeks worth of wasted time. Three days into their retreat into the house, Clack’s nerves were starting to wear thin. There was only so much planning and preparation one could do. And he needed to do, not wait. To find some shit to deal with, not pick lint off of horse-hair overcoats.
He wasn’t sure who’s idea that was. Morette most like, wanting to teach him some lesson that remained incomprehensibly idiotic to start with, impossible to complete, and that had taught him nothing. And that simply because he had let an audible sigh escape him in the middle of the brain-numbing exhibition of expensive trinkets filling the luxurious drawing room. So, Clack and Mal both decided to escape the ladies to some place more suitable for their uncivilized mannerisms.
The ladies, who, in the sudden comfort of a mansion once owned by some long dead and obscenely rich minor lord related to some distantly royal cousin, had made themselves right at home. With a fully functional Butler class house robot, they had no immediate wish to continue across a deadly countryside. There were fine clothes in silk and fur and who knew what other fancy garbage women found so much pleasure in. Clack couldn’t honestly say he didn’t enjoy the sights of young Jesse and the more world weary Lady Morette cleaned up and nicely dressed, painted, combed. Oh, indeed he was a man. But a man that had always been careful to stay out of the way of women in their true habitat. Mal, ignorant and disinterested for other reasons, was just as pleased by Clacks invitation to escape the clouds of face-powder and ruffle and lace.
Gabriel had less choice in the matter. Still not in Jesse’s good graces, Gabriel’s suffering look when the two older men abandoned him in the main house, stayed with Clack who could sympathize. Mal had no such gentle considerations regarding the young man. As Jesse’s father, Mal knew his daughter would either forgive Gabriel and make sure he didn’t forget that she had. Or, she would not forgive him and remind him constantly how much she had not forgiven him. The result was the same in the end. Gabriel was screwed.
What exactly Gabriel had done to deserve Jesse’s ire, Mal wasn’t totally clear on. He wasn’t sure Jesse knew herself. Mal had spent most of the last two decades in a semi-permanent catatonic state. Gabriel had brought him out of it somehow during the trip south. Mal didn’t know if he was grateful for the awakening or not. That was still up for debate in the back of his mind. He was however thankful for missing the last few years of his Carnival wife’s decline and gruesome end. The little information Gabriel and Jesse had deigned to reveal to Mal regarding those last days of The Fat Lady’s life, led him to believe that Jesse blamed Gabriel for the explosion that finally blew up the Amazing, the glorious, the indestructible…. Mmm, the Fat Lady had apparently gone insane rather than snapping out of it as Mal had. Or, as Gabriel had let slip, “She found her mind and she didn’t want it.” The young man had shrugged helplessly and glanced at Jesse. What gruesome destiny had befallen his almost-wife, Jessica’s actual mother, Mal didn’t think he needed to know. But if that was what Jesse was angry about, Gabriel would have a tough time with the girl. For now, he was behaving. Jesse was courteous and allowed him to exist and adore her. From a proper distance of course. Mal smiled to himself and shook his head. “Leave home when you step out the door,” his old pop had said many times to his grandson. “The women will do what they do, and they’re ain’t nothing you can do about it. Fishes don’t care how they’re cooked. Their problem is you, and that’s in the river, nowhere near the kitchen.”
“Leave home when you get out the door,” Mal muttered and turned his attention to Captain Clack, who paid no attention to Mal’s musings of the past.
Clack had his thoughts firmly removed from the main house and its female majority. He shook his head in disgust, looking into the first stall just inside the one set of large stable doors. “This is what those rich bastards did,” he said to Mal who took a sudden interest in one absurd contraption he had nearly fallen over when following Clack through the door. As this was the opposite end of where Mal and Bird had worked on the carrier just that morning, the space was confusing and littered with stuff that might just be the death of a stumbling blind man. He decided to stand still and let Clack do the initial inspection.
Clack glanced at Mal and decided that the man was dangerously close to a protruding iron pipe wrapped in coils of burnt wiring. He pulled Mal by the arm,, grunted at his friend to stay put, and turned back to the machine he was trying to make heads or tails out of. He muttered as he moved stuff this way and that. He said, “When they didn’t remake all their servants, they built crap and tried to make it work.” He grunted and pulled at a jumble of thin copper-wire arranged around a glass pipe sticking out of a block of what looked like a bundle of bones. From a sizeable animal like a cow or horse. The rest of the contraption remained unrecognizable for Clack. It looked like something a child might build out of a pile of trash. When Mal’s hand trailed down the glass pipe towards the bones, Clack put a hand on his shoulder. “I wouldn’t touch that, old friend,” he said.
Mal hesitated with his fingers still on the dusty glass. He nodded slowly as if considering, maybe imagined what Clack considered too horrible to touch. He turned his empty eyes to Clack and rubbed his unshaven face with his free hand. “I don’t doubt you, Captain,” he said and turned back to the machine. He hunkered down lower and found the bundle of bones. He trailed the length and heft of the stack and did a quick calculation of the collected bones. He examined a few of the joints and the strings binding them together. He shuddered and stood up, wiping his hands on his trousers. “Horses,” he said, “maybe as many as five. All lower front legs as far as I can tell.” He let his unseeing eyes roam the row of stalls. He breathed slowly through his nose for a long moment as the stillness of the place told him clear enough what would be in the other stalls. Clack cleared his throat and words failed him. He stepped away from the stall, uncomfortable in the truth. But a moment later he shook it off. As in a mutual agreement, they both turned their unease into grim smiles. They would let it rest for now. Mal placed a hand on Clack’s shoulder and motioned him to continue along the row of stalls toward the storage half of the barn beyond. Mal said, “Don’t concern yourself, Friend. Perhaps you could find some comfort in that I myself is not forced to look at the abominable creations.” He chuckled softly and appeared to shrug off some internal vision.
Clack guided Mal to the open space that began at the end of the last pair of opposite facing stalls and stopped. A large tub stood awkwardly atop a poorly constructed wooden support. Next to the tub, pushed against a scarred wooden wall. The Most of the rest of the space looked like a metal butcher shop in the middle of dinner preparations. Organized chaos filled tables and shelves. With exception of a thin layer of dust, the floor was clean, tools that had not been in use hung in tidy rows. As Clack spoke quietly to Mal about the workshop and the space surrounding them, light started changing. “We’re losing light, old friend,” Clack said. He stared through the open double door, grimacing. A dusky blue gave way to an unsettled green that would shift to various reds and violets as the sun went down. Saying that they would be robbed of light was a misnomer as nights never gained the soothing darkness the world had seen for innumerable nights since the dawn of time and planetary arrangements. After the sundering of the fundamentals of whatever it was that kept life on earth evolving, growing, cycling through seasons, and did what living planets did, darkness was no more. Clack had no more understanding of why the skies turned into coloured chaos than anyone. But it was so. Light turned from sharp dusty blue to an eternally unnatural sunset. A transition to night that defied sense.
Mal, back in a familiar space, made his way to the carrier and placed a hand on its massive bulk. As a precaution Mal had sent Bird to the loft to bring down as much old hey as he could get his beak on. Mal wrapped the top of the carrier so that it covered the sensor. It muffled the sound enough so that a normal conversation wouldn’t trigger the sensitive circuits. Shouting would bring it running, but talking was safe.
Clack glanced at a ragged hole next to the repaired carrier and frowned. “Was that hole there before?”
Mal pursed his lips and buried both hands in his pockets. Showing surprise when he said, “No, I don’t believe it was.”
Clack stared at Mal who said nothing more. He peered through the new hole and pushed at a loose board. It hung by a nail and Clack’s probing hand made it let go and clatter to the floor. “Why, isn’t that strange,” he said.
“Indeed,” Mal said, mildly interested but with a remarkable lack of concern.
Clack watched Mal for a long moment. “Remarkable.” He joined Mal at the carrier and sighed. “Strange indeed.”
When Mal said nothing, Clack said, “We’re truly losing light, my friend. Perhaps we should join poor Gabriel before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?”
“To late to hinder the poor boy from becoming domesticated beyond repair.” Clack grinned. But his face turned serious and he said, “I do prefer to not have to walk across the property in that….”
Mal knew what Clack meant and didn’t blame the scarred soldier for feeling uneasy. Mal had seen the new night sky but once. That was shortly before he had no eyes left to see it with. The very night when the guardians tore them from their sockets in preparation for his remaking. A remaking that in the end failed. Mal had escaped the guardians thanks to Captain Clack and his men. Shortly after, Mal and Clack separately lost their senses as the shift in the world caught up to them. The worst of it had happened over the next couple of months as water withdrew, human minds broke, mechanical minds malfunctioned, and societies collapsed.
Mother of Crow, who few realized was more than a religious icon, had abandoned them all. That’s what Clack believed. Mal had no reason to doubt.
He shook his head. What was then, was in the past. Gabriel thought he could find this elusive Goddess … and then… Then what? What ? The foolish boy had in his head was anybody’s guess. It was what it was. The night sky was something he didn’t want to consider. And truth be told, he preferred the starlit sky in his memories.
“If you say so, Captain,” he said. He patted the carrier on one of its storage compartments. “I suppose this bastard is as ready as it will ever get. So we might as well try to get a good nights sleep. While we can.” He turned to Clack. “Gabriel is still set on moving on tomorrow?”
Clack nodded. “Presuming he can persuade the ladies to leave.”
Mal grimaced. “The boy is an odd one,” he said, “but for whatever reason, we follow the kid where he goes. He is the only one that truly thinks there is more to this fucked up world. That there is something to do about it. Somewhere,” he waved his hand in a vague gesture encompassing something somewhere to the South, “out there.”
“To the South. That’s all he says.” For a moment Clack wondered how the hell Mal knew south from any other direction. But he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know. So he started towards the door, waiting for Mal to follow. Before continuing, “But if that is where he thinks we should go,” Clack shrugged, “that’s where we’ll go. Mother help us.” He glanced back at the brand new hole in the stable wall and grinned at his friend. “You are such an awful liar, Soldier. I trust you will tell me the story one day.”

About this book

Mother of Crow - This Sundered World - Book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don't know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.
This Sundered World - Book 1 - A Mother's Heart for Kindle on Amazon.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2019 Jenny K. Brennan - All rights reserved.

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,,
Icarus Machine official,
JennyK Productions Youtube,
and other places. She is the lyricist and vocalist in the melodic metal band Icarus Machine since 2015. She studies braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Icarus, Haven, Mother of Crow – Now and again Radio for April 1 2019

Reading Time: < 1 minute


The House of Imp. Now and Again Radio with jennyK

What’s happening on House of Imp?
Nag Radio – a rouchly twice a month show with the latest, dumbest, awkwardest, most absurdest but also a fair bit of the every day tedium of This House of Imp. In other words: business as usual.



House of Imp Home
Icarus Machine on Bandcamp

Until next time…


Mother of Crow 10 – Petty victories (Second Draft)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

Chapter 10 – Petty victories

Last updated: April 1, 2019 at 7:22 am

Owl was dull grey from head to tail feathers. His shimmering white coat was covered in soot and ashes from his landing at the still smoking human town. He scanned the landscape, moving only his head. In the center of the devastation, perched atop a still smoking ruin of some building or another, he could have been mistaken for the town’s resident gargoyle. A granite figure for all times guarding and watching his domain. But whether gargoyles in any real or fictional setting had that sense of duty that humans tend to imbue them with or not, this creature couldn’t have cared less about the recent disaster. He had come alone. His murder directed to wait. Owl didn’t need them for this. An erratic burst of information from Butterfly had showed Owl where to go. And what he would find there. Nothing. But he had to see it for himself. A burning town and humans running. A naked female. Another one leaking from glassy eyes. Emptiness humans. That had been the message. Butterfly spoke through the dimensions, so said the teachings. But whether the knowledge was past, present, or perhaps eve even future events was hard to tell these days. The communicator emitted bits of here and then and possibilities of maybe. This had been strong. The finch fucker and that human that Owl couldn’t read. But once again, he had been too late and There were no one to process and Owl had known. He turned in a slow circle and scanned the landscape one more time. The humans were gone. And he had no sense of them. He had a sense of them lingering though. That much he could tell. They had been there. And destroyed their own nest? Why? Owl was puzzled and that feeling nearly trumped his frustration. Too late. Again.

The remade bird hopped off the dismantled roof ridge and landed on the road that had once been the main street of Terry town. His landing stirred up a fresh cloud of ashes. He started toward the water tower, and the column of fine ash was born, bloomed, and spread out after him as he walked. He reached the base of the water collector and looked up along its marred copper cylinder. He stopped, cocked his head to the side and leaned close to the dirty metal. He stood still for a long minute and listened to the gentle burble from inside. The blades at the end of his wings started clicking. They slid out of their hidden sheaves one by one in sequence. One by one they disappeared again. From one end of the row to the other. The exercise continued for another minute. The whispering clicks, ticks, and shrill scraping of sharp metal blades sliding in and out one by one, one after another normally calmed Owl. Suddenly he drew his head back, all blades extended fully as he raised both wings slightly. He jabbed his beak into the metal. He positioned his head back near the metal to listen. The ringing echoes traveled throughout the near empty collector and lingered for several breaths before fading back into quiet burbling. Owl relaxed his posture and stepped back. He peered up along the cylinder again and croaked quietly,
“no?” before he quickly pecked at the metal twice more. When the water-collector refused to make any sound other than the echoing ringing that indicated more empty than full, he finally stepped away from it and turned to the town again. He shook his wings and rustled off a cloud of ash, Owl despised dirt. Why did humans always bring grime and filth wherever they went? Nasty creatures, them. Was it any wonder he wanted them gone?
Owl shrugged in dismay and stepped out of the tenacious cloud of ash. It followed and he walked faster. This was no place for Owl. He snorted in disgust and held back a cough. In a moment, he located his patrolling murder of guardians against the sharp noon sky. They waited for him to be done, circling, sailing, restlessly watching the ground. If humans were anywhere in sight of the birds, they would give up a cry for their superior and then give chase. But the skies were calm, and so was the gathering of little dots up high. Owl blinked. His mind was still on the water collector although he wasn’t sure why. Suddenly he turned and regarded the mechanism at the bottom, clucking in annoyance. A crank. It would be easier for the engineer. But he was up there hovering with the others. He blinked at the blasted thing a few times and then reached out to the lever. He grabbed the awkward handle with his beak and turned it like he had seen the engineer do it. It didn’t move. He let go and pulled his head back. Turn. Yes, it had to turn. But what way? He grabbed it again and turned it the other way. It opened a fraction. Water started dripping. He grabbed it again, careful not to let the water touch him. He turned hard as far as he could and jumped back and out of the way. The water escaped with a dribble and gathered in a puddle that would be quick to evaporate. No water, no humans. Owl clucked quietly to himself.
Satisfied with his small victory, he started walking. He paced a trail of dust back along the road. There was nothing more to see here. He looked down at the filth covering his chest and resisted his urge to clean any of it off. He had humans to do that kind of thing. He With a quick rush forward, he shrieked at the sky, jumped, and took flight to join his flock.

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,,
Icarus Machine official,
JennyK Productions Youtube,
and other places. She is the lyricist and vocalist in the melodic metal band Icarus Machine since 2015. She studies braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Mother of Crow 09 – The after the before never changes (Second revision)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

Chapter 9 – The after the before never changes

Last updated: February 14, 2019 at 8:16 am

There was no town. Instead, smoke and ashes hovered gently over a field of destruction. Muted flickers of quickly dying flames popped in and out of sight between the drifting cloud of smoke. Down the road, half way between a line of flattened houses at the outskirts of town and the forest, Clack paced the width of the road, sputtering curses through clenched teeth. Gabriel wasn’t listening. He stared at the destroyed town in dull fascination.

Gabriel’s hearing reluctantly returned and something tickled his awareness. It was a sound so odd he wasn’t sure he heard it right. He turned to Jesse. She was crying.
She was furiously wiping her eyes and making a sooty mess of her face. Gabriel stared at her. She had one hand over her mouth and with the other she gripped his wrist and pulled him closer.

“Jesse, what?” Gabriel was confused. So okay, one more explosion might be a bit much, even for Jesse who never cried. But still…. He spoke without thinking, “It’s not like there was anything in that place worth saving.” That didn’t sound right. “ I mean, maybe they are better off.”
Jesse stared. “They were human.” She let the anger take over. “Humans, Gabriel, humans!”
Gabriel threw his hands up. “Not all of them,” he said and thought of the broken down machines littering the street on their way to the town hall, “and they…” Suddenly he stopped. Clack was glaring at him. Jesse took a step back.
“What?” He rubbed his face, hiding his friends from view. What was he saying? Faces flickered through his mind. “They weren’t. Not anymore.” Frustrated, he pulled his hands from his face and thrust an arm toward the smoke and ashes. “Are you saying that those. Those people….”
“People. Yes, Gabriel, people. You just said it, people.” Jesse pushed Clack aside and stopped in front of Gabriel. “Humans Do you remember humans? Do you remember your mother? Was she a machine too? Is that why you don’t talk about her? She wasn’t worth saving?” She didn’t scream, she didn’t touch him, but she may as well have pushed him off a cliff. That cliff in dead river. The cliff where Bird had saved him . Or had he saved Bird? He couldn’t remember. He had left his home in ruins. He had left his mother’s vaporized body drifting as toxic vapour after another explosion.
“What about my mother, Jesse? She died, Jesse!” Gabriel’s voice cracked and he strained to breathe. “She did it to herself. What the hell do you know about anything?”
Jesse’s face was so close he could feel her breath on his. She breathed fast. “Nothing! Gabriel, I know nothing and that’s the point. But I know a coward when I see one. A selfish, childish, useless human.”
Gabriel growled, “I’m not the one helping the fucking guardians to catch humans, was I?”

Jesse flinched but she refused to back down. “I’m not the one hiding in some hole waiting for a stupid machine bird to come to the rescue.” She drew a quick breath and grabbed the front of Gabriel’s shirt. She pulled him even closer. “I’m not the one who can’t see reality. I had a mother too, Gabriel. Remember her? The last one she saw was you, Gabriel, you!”
Gabriel gripped Jesse’s hand to remove it from his chest but she held on tight. “But you were all too eager to get out of that place. I got you out of there, Miss Carnival princess. Do you remember that?”
She gaped at him and had to fight for her next breath before talking again, “You? You stupid boy. Did you think I chose to come along on this stupid quest? I had to come along to save you and your pet bird from your helpless selves. What other reason could I have had? After you came along and drove my mother to burn. I should have left you to burn with her.”
It was Gabriel’s turn to gape, unable to rid himself of everything she brought to the front of his mind. “Your Mother? She wasn’t even…”
Jesse let go of Gabriel’s shirt with a cry of anguish and hit him. “Don’t say it, Gabriel. Don’t even dare.” She drew back to slap him again, but Gabriel stepped back, touching his burning face in shock. He opened his mouth. What he was about to say no one knows. And Jesse would never know what she would have done next.

“Enough!” Clack took Jesse by the shoulders and pulled her back. “That’s enough,” he said again, “Gabriel,” he snapped and Gabriel shut his mouth. “Jesse, you too.” He turned Jesse the other way and she stayed. Gabriel turned back to the town, struggling with the words Jesse had thrown at him. He breathed hard and he heard Jesse’s muted crying. Clack gave them a second. He sighed. “We have more important things to think about.”
Clack gave it a few beats, looking at Gabriel and Jesse in turn. Then he repeated, “We have more important things to think about.”
Reluctantly, Gabriel turned from his contemplation of the smoke drifting along the cracks in the road at his feet and shrugged. Jesse wiped her eyes and took a second to glare at Gabriel before looking at Clack. The soldier stared hard at the smouldering ruins, looking for something. “Bird didn’t come back with you, did he?”

Gabriel stared at him. Then at the ruined town and a cold dread started at his guts, compressed his breathing, and the last hour flooded through his mind. Hadn’t he? He took a quick step forward and scanned the road, the side of the road, behind him, as if the bird would be right there. Once more rising out of fire and sure death, ready to irritate everyone around him.
Once again without thought, Gabriel took several steps toward Terrytown before Clack caught up with him and pulled him to a stop. “No, Kid. If he was there, he’s gone. We have to get going.”
Gabriel turned to the soldier but he didn’t know what to say. Clack was right.
“He’s not there, Kid. We shouldn’t be here either.” Clack pulled him back further.

Jesse picked up on what Clack left unsaid and scrutinized the soldier, recent argument temporarily put on hold. With her eyes still on Clack, she agreed, talking to Gabriel, “Time to go. The others are waiting.”
But Gabriel’s mind wasn’t ready to let go yet. With a new thought, he turned to Clack, ignoring Jessie. He couldn’t look at her. With the thought of a different target. This new direction of his rage helped chase away the possibility of grief. He avoided looking at Jesse. He found Clacks eyes and glared. “Where is he? That fool that ran by. Where did he go?” There was no sign of the crazy clerk along the road. “He was at the office. And then he ran. Why?” There was trees and brush but nowhere a place for a man to hide. “He did this. I need to know why.”
Clack’s thoughts fell into line with Gabriel’s Logic and he narrowed his eyes at their surroundings. He hadn’t put the running man in the middle of the recent events in the way the young man had. He dismissed a twinge of shame over missing the obvious. “He won’t get far,” he said, scanning the road and the wasted area it sliced through. “If we don’t find him, they will.” His emphasis on the word ‘they’ didn’t miss the target. Gabriel flinched and glanced at Jesse. But she already looked at Clack and waited for more. “What do you see?”
Clack frowned. “Something.” He hesitated and turned his eyes to the sky. “Something. I must have seen something. I’m not sure. It’s too quiet here. I don’t like it.”
Jesse stood quietly for a moment, listening, while watching tendrils of smoke creep across the cracked and dusty roadway until they fractured and dissipated in the still air. She turned her attention to the sky. There was so much of it, so many directions they could come from. “I don’t see anything.”
Clack growled. “Chances are we won’t. We have to go.”
Gabriel turned from Terrytown. He didn’t acknowledge Clacks steady impatience. The soldier was willing to give the kid a moment to get his shit together. But only a moment. And that moment of grace was quickly expiring. “Kid.” Clack barked.
Gabriel ignored him and pushed past and started down the road, looking for the bird killing official. He ad to be there somewhere.
Clack urged jessie to come along as he hurried to catch up with Gabriel. “Bad reason, right direction, one out of two. That’ll have to do don’t it,” he muttered while Gabriel’s stubborn mumbling drifted back to them. “I know he did this. Fucker!” Gabriel increased his speed, shaking off his demons while hunting another.
Clack and Jesse followed in silence. The open fields on either side of the road transformed into forest, one tired tree at a time. Another minute and they would reach denser woods where they would turn toward their camp via long forgotten trails and rails. Gabriel didn’t notice the woods for the trees where a man could hide. His body ached from a set of fresh burns from the Terrytown demolition. He felt none of that. The pain that arose from within, he held at bay. Or he thought he did. Easier than that was the anger. He could aim that at something, or someone. The little man from the office was nowhere to be seen. Finally, Gabriel had to admit that Clack was right. The man would be long gone. He clenched his teeth and stopped dead in-between one step and the next. His mother’s words came as a welcome comfort and a hated reminder of things best forgotten. ‘There are people. Find them,’ she had said before she died.
I did, Mother, see what that got me? What else do you want from me?
Gabriel, go. Find them!
“Shit, Kid. What are you on about?” Clack’s impatience jolted Gabriel out of the forever repeating mantra of failure and confusion. He looked For one last time back at the town, hoping for movement, a skipping hopping black shadow of dirty black feathers appearing out of smoke and ashes. There was nothing. The town was still. Whatever damnation that man set off had levelled the entirety of the tiny one street town. As fires died fast in this world of no wind and even lesser will for destructive forces such as decay of biological material and flammable substances, the extent of the destruction was quickly obvious. None of the big buildings were left standing and the few structures still recognizable as former constructions were all in the very outskirts of the town, nothing was left undamaged. Except for the single water collector that had been at the very centre of town. A population of a few hundred could survive well with only one collector. Gabriel glared at the thing. A memory of a naked woman scraping inedible plants from the canister flashed in his mind alongside impressions of make-shift grub-farms and empty gazes from soulless humans. The mayors beautiful people. All gone now. He dropped his head and rubbed his face hard, needing to clear his mind. Bird had been left in that inferno and there was no point in hoping for a miracle. Even Birds had only so many lives. Humans. He didn’t want to think of them that way. They were gone now. He looked around for Clack and found him glaring at him.
“Are we done?”
Gabriel nodded. Yeah, he was done. Done bothering.
Clack scanned the sky again, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Good. We don’t have time for that,” he said to Gabriel and Jesse while focusing on the relentless glaring blue above. He froze. “About bloody time too. We have company.”

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,,
Icarus Machine official,
JennyK Productions Youtube,
and other places. She is the lyricist and vocalist in the melodic metal band Icarus Machine since 2015. She studies braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Mother of Crow – 08 All the birds? (Second revision)

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

Chapter 8 – All the birds?

Last updated: February 2, 2019 at 19:24 pm [bctt tweet=”Ch 8 from Mother of Crow, the novel I publish as I need to making an idiot of myself, edit, revise, despair, and look for interesting words. #houseofimp #fiction”]

There were no birds in the monastery gardens. They had gone silent along with everything else. As humanity went insane and nature lost its purpose for being, the forests and gardens grew still. With the dead quietly losing their meaning as well as their colouring, they faded in memory as well. With time they lost their place in the collected consciousness of the remaining human population. They turned into faded images. There were no birds. That’s what went through Frederico’s mind in the moment he saw it. There were no birds.

The bird was beautiful. Clad in a deep blue feathering that gradually changed through indigo and dark purple to shimmering charcoal at the crown of its head. It was a creature so magnificent it would have taken Frederico’s breath away. If he hadn’t been breeding his butterflies. Stunningly close to perfection but still only a bird.. It was no larger than could easily be cupped in a mans hand,
“Oh.” John exhaled “
Oh.”, He said again and started moving past Frederico who let go of the door they had just come through.

John didn’t make it past. “Fred, look!”
But Frederico didn’t need to look to know that John had just made the first of many mistakes he would make in the world outside. There was a bird. On a branch. Just outside the only place anyone could exit the monastery. A bird.
There were no birds. Unless….
Before the thought was fully formed in his mind, His arm shot out and in the fraction of a second it took for the bird to decide to take off, he caught it just as it raised its wings. It never made a sound when Frederico tightened his fingers around the tiny body. He robbed it of air first. That way it couldn’t call out. It flapped its wings but Frederico ignored it and tightened his grip. The bird struggled in wild panic. It drove its sharp beak into the hand that held it, again and again, but to no avail. Frederico ignored the pain and finally, tiny bones cracked, and other things whirred and buzzed one final time before going still. The bird grew limp. Gabriel held on until he was sure it wouldn’t move. Then another minute. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. He let out his breath and dropped the creature on the ground. “Be quiet now, little one.”, He mumbled. John moved beside him and he opened his eyes to turn his attention to john. Blood dripped from Frederico’s finger tips and he let it fall to feed the parched ground at their feet.

“Fred?” John said. The name was muffled because both Johns big hands covered his mouth. Suddenly his hands moved to cover his eyes instead. “Fred, I can still see it.”

Frederico pulled John’s arms down. “I know, my brother, I know.”

Both of them stood a moment and looked down at the bird that was not a bird. Frederico hadn’t known for sure, but now they both knew. And John had to see to understand. The body at their feet lay exposed to them and the metal parts of the bird were easy to see. Tiny gears, springs, and scalpel blades appeared to have grown along with the birds natural anatomy in ways that Frederico could never hope to understand. John stepped closer and bent down to look at the remade pretty little bird. His fear was suddenly replace with curiosity. He poked at it. Frederico looked around while John satisfied his curiosity. “Yeah, be quiet now, silly little monster. You didn’t think you would get away from Fred, did you? Silly thing. Fred? Did it hurt you?” John’s expression was grim when he stood up. “Fred!”

Frederico ignored him. He plucked one of the remaining camouflage rags from John’s metal clad chest and wrapped it around his bleeding hand. He still didn’t know how he had caught the guardian. He only knew that he had and if he hadn’t, it would have brought the rest of the guardians within moments. It must have been posted there for that purpose alone.

“Nasty.” John said with finality. “Birds are bad.” He nodded. “Nasty bad monster birds.”

To Frederico’s dismay, John wasn’t looking at the bird, or even at the sky where there may be a swarm of guardians sailing around looking for them right that moment. He was looking at Frederico, seemingly searching for something that wasn’t there. Frederico wanted to look away.
John asked, “All of them? All the birds? Even pretty birds?”
Frederico nodded. He wished with every fibre of his body that it wasn’t true. But it was better that John believed it. “Yes, John, all the birds.”, He said, “All the birds and maybe all the other animals too. We don’t know. Maybe they are all nasty bad monster things now. Let’s always remember that. Okay, John?”

John sighed and wiped his nose with a metal sleeve, then wiped the sleeve on a piece of an old polishing cloth tied around his other metal sleeve. “Okay,” he finally muttered. He wouldn’t look at Frederico. He shuffled his feet and glanced at somewhere other than on his fellow monk, dead guardian bird, or glimpses of sky above them.
Frederico sighed inwardly and looked up. “We have to go, Brother. Now.” There were but a few patches of sky seen through a ceiling of wood and vines carefully arranged to grow grapes. All was quiet. What was happening within the stone walls would not be heard on the outside. But it was happening nonetheless. When would they figure out that someone was missing? He turned away from the stones that had been his home for the last three decades. A crumpled leaf crackled beneath his foot and suddenly he recalled the plenty that had been before. When all the monks had to do was walk outside and pick grapes from just above their heads. Now, the vines were a tangle of dry cracking branches and long crumpled leaves.

Beyond the protective ceiling of vines, tight rows of fruit trees took over, and beyond that, the forest on the other side of the monastery gate continued into the eastern paradox, a vast forest stretching far into places Frederico didn’t know. As far as he had heard, , it didn’t stop until it reached the ocean. That was several days travel by horse, on a decent road. But that wasn’t where they were going. He frowned. Where were they going to go? He pulled John behind him, and they made their way through the tight rows of fruit trees, glancing back at the monastery door and the spot where a tiny guardian lay crushed. “Shit.” He said and stopped, He looked more carefully at where they had come from.
John plucked at his coat. He was impatient to go.
“They will know,”Frederico whispered and stared at the bloody rag wrapped around his hand , “the bird. We should have brought it.”
“But why?”
“Well, we could have buried it, or hid it, or kicked some dirt over it or something.” Frederico felt his focus scatter. He wanted to run back and hide any evidence of them escaping the monastery. He wanted nothing less than to go back there. They he… had killed a guardian. A small scout, an insignificant messenger to be sure, but still a guardian.
“Fred! Come on. We’re going to Severin. He knows what to do.” John started pulling at his friend. . Suddenly at a loss, thankful to let that specific complication turn out however it may, , Frederico allowed John to take the lead. They reached the wall in a few minutes. To Frederico’s relief the gate was still open. That had always been the way of the monks. ‘Always leave somewhere for the unfortunate to find their way in. If they eat well from our garden and disappear again, so be it. If they come openly and make their way to ask for our assistance, so much the better. Leave it half open so it appears open by mistake. It makes them feel safe to come to us.’ Memories of those words and the gentle man who had uttered them him were painful. The abbot’s words and attitude had surprised Frederico at the time, but now he wondered. Perhaps making it easier for strangers entering the monastery was not the only reason for leaving a gate open. He glanced thoughtfully over his shoulder. Perhaps the conveniently hanging vines had been more than for simple convenience. And suddenly it was obvious that the carefully constructed hanging vineyard was there for a very good reason. “Oh, Mother, how did you create such an ignorant one like this one?” He shook his head when John looked at him. He wanted to ask forgiveness for stupidity, but John was not the person to hold a grudge and wouldn’t understand the need to atone for anything, especially not for being a bit slow in the head. Frederico did however thought a quick apology for that sentiment. Slow indeed.
They slipped through the narrow opening and stopped for a moment on the far side. The forest was ancient and had been left to its own devices for hundreds of years. But the foliage was limp and offered sparse protection from above. Frederico scanned the patches of visible sky and saw nothing but misty blue. It was the same relentless unnatural shade of not-quite-right blue as he recalled from the last time he had-seen it, several months ago. Or was it years?
“Don’t do that.” John said quietly. He stood close to Frederico and glanced surreptitiously at the same glaring blue as Frederico had.

“Do what?”

John looked down and trampled nervously in the same spot. “Don’t look.”

Frederico didn’t ask. He knew why. If the guardians were coming, seeing them wouldn’t help. He reluctantly turned to the trees surrounding them.

Despite this, Frederico felt safer away from the monastery grounds. There was no logic to the sensation of relief he felt. The weight of innumerable tons of monastery granite and marble slid off him like a silk scarf swirling off cool skin. He was momentarily taken aback by the thought of skin and he blinked. John pulled him between tree trunks and over dry ground and crackling moss. “Do you know where to go?”

“Of course I do.” John pulled and Frederico followed, confused.
“How?” He brushed a spindel off his arm and watched it scuttle under a rock, turn and glare at him. Before he was pulled deeper into the woods, he could swear that the spindel, a creature that had never existed before the Mother disappeared, stared at him. Spindels had no eyes but Frederico knew it was looking at him. What did it want? Then the thing was out of sight and he focused on his confusion again. “John, how do you know? Did someone tell you?”

John squeezed his big form through a pair of dormant ash trees and pulled Frederico through behind him. At the same time, he seemed to both shrug and wave aimlessly at something somewhere. “They told me.” He went to push a branch out of the way and it broke off the tree with a loud snap. Frederico froze. John carefully put the branch down on the ground and stared at Frederico for a second. They glanced around the silent scenery but nothing moved except for another spindel, now situated prominently on John’s shoulder. Frederico went to brush it off but John took a step back. “NO.”


“No!” John glared. Actually glowered at Frederico who gawked at the wiry bug. “But it’s a…”


John grabbed Frederico again and hauled his fellow monk through a stand of trees that Frederico couldn’t identify. They were not quite dead, not quite alive, standing silently with their limp leaves and dusty smooth bark. They could have been silvery white once. The ground rustled and branches protested when they pushed their way through. Frederico kept an eye on the spindel. It clung to an edge in John’s armour, traveling quite contentedly with the big man’s protection. It bobbed and wiggled to keep the balance but some how, some way, it always managed to keep an eye on Frederico. “I don’t trust you.”, It appeared to say, “I’m just going about my business, you stupid human, you tend to yours why don’t you? See? We’re all friends here. Got mi eyes on you, Sir.”. Frederico frowned. Spindles didn’t have eyes. Or mouths. Or even a mind as far as the monks ever discovered. But this one had gained the full protection from one of the full metal monks. Now that was a feat even the most important of humans had a hard time achieving. “This one has its ways,” the spindle continued in Frederico’s mind. “You’re a bug.” He said to the bug and looked away before it could inspire further conversation between Frederico and… Frederico?
John stopped. “See?” He pointed, “Severin’s house.”

John’s attention was wholly on the ruin of a cabin ahead of them. Frederico pulled a twig out of his hair and poked at the spindel with it. The bug jumped out of the way and scrambled over to John’s other shoulder., out of reach. Frederico bared his teeth at the thing. He didn’t know why. It was the right thing to do, he was sure of that. The spindle reared back and raised its four front legs, wiggling them back and forth. Frederico grinned wider and leaned closer. The spindle dropped its legs and backed into John’s linen collar and crawled in behind it. “Shit.” Frederico breathed through his aching teeth, glancing at John who turned o grab him again. The spindel looked like nothing more than a tuft of trash tucked behind Johns slightly dingy tunic. “That’s right,” Frederico mumbled at the spindel, “ I am bigger than you.”

“Fred? Are you sick? Are you going to puke or something? Fred, you look really sick.”

Frederico stared at his companion. “What?” and then he felt the stiff grin on his face. A grimace. He let his face relax and tried to smile. No good. . He tried harder and on his second attempt he managed an actual smile, however awkward it must have looked. “Sick? Oh, no. Not at all.” Satisfied, John waved at the overgrown little cabin in the withered forest and nodded. Frederico took a closer look and scrubbed at an itchy spot.“Severin’s place? That? Well, what do you know? It’s there. I can’t wait to meet the maker of this…marvel of a … err, home?”

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,,
Icarus Machine official,
JennyK Productions Youtube,
and other places. She is the lyricist and vocalist in the melodic metal band Icarus Machine since 2015. She studies braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.

Mother of Crow – 07 Fred, can we go now? (1st revision)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mother of Crow

By Jenny K. Brennan

Chapter 7 Fred, can we go now?

Last updated: January 30, 2019 at 7:38 am [bctt tweet=”Ch7 from Mother of Crow, the novel I publish as I write, edit, revise, and despair. John and Frederico in a dark corridor. #houseofimp #fiction”]

The old man didn’t actually scream. Frederico heard it nonetheless. An echo of his own cowardliness followed him when he escape the monastery corridor with John. Despite the old man’s assurance of a painless death, Frederico was sure he heard the old man dying. Not from poison. From claws and razor sharp blades tearing him apart. Even when the small door closed., cutting off all sounds as well as light, he imagined it. His spine prickled in the need to move. Away from what would become nothing but death and carnage in just a few moments. He had left the old man to die and the shame burned him, urged him to turn around. To open the door back to his duty. To be with those who would all be dead within minutes of their betrayal. But damned the duty. He had done his part and look where that had gotten them. The abbot had known it would come to this. Even John hadn’t been surprised. The only one that hadn’t understood was Frederico. So blinded by his work that would somehow pay off. The guardians would keep them safe. Maybe even reward them for their loyalty. But of course it had been wishful thinking. If he just worked hard, made it happen. He would give them what they had requested and things would work out. He dropped that useless thought and grabbed John. The passage was dark, void of any openings to the outside or oil lamps. These waslls . Not even the simplest torches hung on these walls. It wouldn’t have halped as Frederico hadnt thought to bring anything to start a fire with. No torches, no lamps, no windows. For some inexplicable reason, that had been one of the odd things about the monestary that Frederico knew without knowing why and how he knew. That was the way it had to be and that was that. Trailinga hand along the rough stone wall, they entered the system of maze like passages running through the huge construction. Frederico brought up the mental image he had memorized years ago. It came willingly enough but it never dawned on him that maybe it was strange that he had done so in the first place. John clanged and banged his armour against the wall. But it couldn’t be helped. Another few steps and they reached another door. Without a word, John handed the ring of keys to Frederico who unlocked the door on his first try. Once through, he stopped and pulled John to the side. Panting, he carefully closed the second door behind them. Still quiet. He quickly examined the ring of keys and locked the door. He glanced toward the sound of John’s wheezing breaths.
“Don’t move.” Suddenly, all air seemed to leave him and his skin alternated between burning and freezing. He shivered, gasped for his next breath. . He gripped the ring of keys in a damp hand and pressed it to his chest. There was a hint of movement from his friend. A nod? A sob? Didn’t matter. For no reason at all, Frederico nodded with a stiff neck. His entire body felt like a rung out rag and he fell back to lean on the door. He stood there a long silent moment, before he heard a controlled breath from whom, he didn’t quite know. The oppressive silence slowly turned into a good thing. Something more blessed than cursed. He could breathe again and fifty inhales and exhales later, he thought that maybe they wouldn’t rip through the door and shred them both to bird feed. The door, none of the doors between them and the killing ground back there would protect them from weaponized guardians. That meant that they simply hadn’t noticed the door. Not yet and maybe not for a while. But those left behind wouldn’t be so lucky. What would happen to those who did not die instantly? That was another thing Frederico’s mind fought against. Fought and failed. His fragile control frayed at the edges and he turned to the silent John. Don’t move,” he said again to the monk who hadn’t moved. “It’s okay, John. Are you okay? John? This is not so bad, is it?”
After a moments hesitation, john said, “I’m not afraid of the dark, Fred.”
Frederico swallowed hard, not listening. Calming John could be difficult when he got that way. When the world became too much for the slow minded monk and he had to shut himself away from the others for a while. A soothing voice often helped. But now, he didn’t know what to say so he said, “Not so bad. We’re fine, john. It’s okay here. No birds, see?” His voice rose in pitch for every statement. His throat narrowed and words exploded into the air in strained bursts when he said, “No birds… here.”
“I know,” John said calmly. His voice was clear and careful, soothing a friend who was fast becoming hysteric.
Frederico continued, “They can’t get in here. The birds… out there… doing things.”
“Fred,” John touched Frederico’s shoulder, “I know, fred. They can’t come in here. You locked the door, remember?”
Frederico struggled to keep the monk calm. “ You know. I know. You don’t need be afraid. Not in here…”
“Stop it,” John snapped. Then he sighed and whined, “Fred, don’t whine. I don’t like it when you whine.” John sniffled, “don’t do that, Fred.”
Frederico stared blankly into the darkness for a moment of embarrassed recalibration of reality. He pulled a tentative breath and let it out slowly. “Oh,” he finally said, “sorry.”
John shrugged in the darkness and the metal parts in his suit jingled and scraped. “Yup.”
Both men took a careful step away from each other and the silence stretched.
. “Go?” Frederico finally said with a squeak in his throat that couldn’t have been his. A giggle escaped the big figure and Frederico collapsed in relief. He reached for the big dumb monk with an overwhelming feeling of love and hopeless responsibility warming and hurting his heart. He hesitated. They had to hurry. But would it be any safer to try to escape? Wasn’t it just as well to stay right there, in the dark, and hope for the best? The guardians would kill everyone and then go. They would search the … kill everybody. They would search… everywhere. Guardians did not leave jobs undone. They took their time…
“Kill everyone.”

Frederico jolted up straight. John’s whisper was not a question. And it mirrored Frederico’s own thoughts so precisely that for a moment he thought they were his own.

“Fred? Can we go somewhere else? Can we go to Severin’s house now?”
“Severin’s house. Yes, that’s where we’re going.”
“Oh good.”
Frederico didn’t have the heart to tell him that maybe it wouldn’t be that easy. He said, “Severin’s place. Sure thing, big boy.”

Frederico got John moving. With the corridors so narrow, one could touch both walls at once and that’s how they navigated . Only once did John walked face first into a closed door. He shook it off and grunted to Frederico to open it. After passing through each door, they locked it again. They moved quickly through several more doors, passed years of dust, they reached the final door in only minutes. “He’s dead now, isn’t he?” John said once they stood at the door. Frederico stood still, wondering if there was any point in hiding the truth from John. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes, John. I think he is.” He wanted to say something more but there was nothing more to say. The sign of the Mother made his fingers twitch. But they resisted the comforting gesture. There was no comfort to be had in empty symbols and hollow words. He tightened his fingers in a hard fist around the longing for ritual. The mother hadn’t been there for so long, for so many hopeless prayers. He touched his fellow monk on the metal clad shoulder and let his fingertips pull from the big man what he couldn’t find within himself. A measure of comfort. But also a sliver of innocence that had always shone so purely from the man who’s mind had never caught up with his body. A warmth that came from nothing and without reason, without shape or form, filled Frederico and he surrendered to the moment. “They are all with the Mother now, John. All safe. Safe on those wings of chaos, John. Safe.”
John said nothing. Frederico pulled his fingers away. “We trust this. We wish this. And she knows this.” Frederico mumbled the familiar phrases and waited. “And she will return.” He finished with his own desperate wish. He wasn’t sure he did believe it. But John might. And maybe that would be enough.
John mumbled the rest of the childish prayer, so softly that the words faded before finding a surface to bring them back. “Mother of Crow, save us for we are weak.”
Frederico smiled. “We certainly are.”
They turned to the door. Beyond it was the outside and the garden that the guardians did not know about. As far as he knew. Oh, Mother, you cruel bitch, you better save us now. He pushed open the door.

About the author

Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,,
Icarus Machine official,
JennyK Productions Youtube,
and other places. She is the lyricist and vocalist in the melodic metal band Icarus Machine since 2015. She studies braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.