When dawn rose on Tuesday, Blake was sitting in the center of his living room, having successfully inscribed the last lines of an elaborate spiraling pattern on the floor. He had not slept since Sunday. His bones ached, his vision unclear, but he was smiling.
The golden hour filled the room around him, filtering through the eastern window.
He appraised his work. The books lining the room’s walls were stacked in careful towers around it, books on language and form, thumbed through and marked with placeholders as if they were recipe books. The pattern seemed obscured, up close, the only clear area where Blake sat, having painted himself into a center, as it were. He wiped his hands off on his shirt and picked up the well-worn pile of tarot cards next to him, starting to shuffle them.
He smiled at the irregular sound of the banging broken coop door above. Below, the dreamers of the building were stirring, most still wrapped in their comforters, unaware as yet what happened, what was to come. The silence, the absence, the void of voice.
The birds, of course, were a key. Did Mayland know what he’d been doing, all this time? When they saw the results, would any of the building’s inhabitants know the significance of what had happened, in the darkness of predawn? Blake had lived in this building longer than any of them, save Mayland, who would now and then visit for a game of chess or the odd tarot reading.
Mayland’s eccentricities reflected Blake’s, after a fashion, something that at their age amounted to a sort of friendship, or at the very least an understanding, and on these visits they sometimes took pleasure in the library Blake had accrued before his retirement, specifically the collection of old illustrated folios of avians he kept in the dining room. Game Birds and Wild Fowls of the British Isles, Chanticleer Rag, the Ootheca Wolleyana, a reprint of Kabūtarnāmah and others along those lines.
Mayland kept his Rock doves, of course, but he had the odd Jacobin here and there, a few Fantails, and even an imported pair of Pigmy Pouters. He’d sometimes muse over their peculiarities, with Blake, the slight differences of personality that only prolonged interaction could suss out of a bird.
Of greatest interest to Blake was the pair of ravens Mayland had formed a hutch for some months ago. Mayland had taken the time to train them, such as he was able, and they recognized Blake when he visited the rooftop to feed them carefully sliced slivers of cat food. Huginn and Muninn, Blake called them, after the ravens of Odin, the god who gave Wednesday its name. Thought and memory. Mayland called them Oscar and Felix; one was pristine in its preening, the other unkempt. They were thieves: they collected buttons, cigarette butts, candy wrappers and such in their hutch.
Gone now, gone gone gone, like the rest. Some neighbors on the sixth floor had complained of the noise, but Blake never had. He knew the language of birds as the Green Language, the first language, the language of angels, Enochian. There was some sadness, in fact, now that they were gone. Their background chatter and coos were a comfort on some lonely days.
Blake smiled, nonetheless. Still shuffling the cards.
The light of the morning showed dust motes and hair swirling through the room. Blake had the blinds open and the window cracked. Outside the autumn day brilliant with green turned yellow, yellows turned orange. Tuesday, Tyr’s day, Tyr, who risked and lost his hand to Fenrir, the wolf that would one day devour the world. Tyr, the war god that bargained to delay Ragnarok, the final war, at least for a time. Outside, a whale of a cloud blotted the sun, bringing gloom back to the room.
Blake stopped shuffling the cards, stretched, and cocked his head to one side. Steps, careful steps up the staircase. Years had not robbed him of his hearing yet. He stood, and careful to not step out of the circle’s edge, peered through the peephole.
There she was, the blonde from the fourth floor, creeping around like a weasel, pausing at the foot of the stairs, looking up, wincing at the irregularity of the banging door. The woman with the notes she’d leave, those cheerful reminders taped to doors. The one that Don would complain about, when he was visiting with Mayland on the rooftop, and Blake sometimes listened in. What would this woman make of the puzzling evidence left in the wake of the Outsider? Would she write a missive for Mayland, bang on his door demanding answers, only to discover him gone? Gone, gone, gone, like the birds.
Blake remembered the flight of the birds, the uninhibited amalgamated murmuration in the darkness, vanishing out over the rooftops, circling back, in a pattern, moving as one, passing overhead, like an augury. A flash of Beatrice, the bleary-eyed drunk on the rooftop, in the grip of a short-term Bacchanalia, staring stupidly at the key during their entire one-sided conversation, then his quiet retreat as she dialed her phone, nearly in tears. Would she even remember him? Did any of the building’s dreamers even know him by name? Of course not. In his obscurity and anonymity came a strength. The blonde had never left him a note. Don probably thought he was Mayland’s boss.
Blake smiled, reflecting on the slur of Beatrice’s language in contrast to the Enochian chatter, the birdsong around them, in that moment before the war to come.
It was time, he decided.
Stepping back into the center of the spiraled circle, he fanned the cards out in front of him, steady hands despite the curl of pain in his joints. He flipped one card and laid it out close to him.
The Tower. Lightning striking, people in an eternal fall. A shaking of foundations. With destruction, creation. This was to be expected, and given the circumstances, was almost amusing.
He placed a card across The Tower. The Stars. A woman under a starry sky, pouring water into a pure lake. Blake found this interesting. Great projects and possibilities governing this affair.
The Sun, with its placid smile, to the north. The Moon, to the east, rising between the battlements separated by a river. To the west, the Hermit, and at this he smiled again. The Fool, of course, to the south, covered by the final card, Death.
Blake puzzled over this reading for some time, then scooped the fanned-out cards up and stood, creaking with pain. More footsteps down and then up the stairs again. A heated conversation, overhead. The day outside, moving faster than Blake had expected it would. He trained his ears to the hall once more. A dislocation of air, and he shuffled the cards in his hands absentmindedly. All the dreamers were stirring, by now. The clink of the gate outside, the spinning of a bicycle’s chains. Cars passing by, on the street. Knocks on doors, echoing up from the bottom floor.
Languid now, Blake crouched, picked the cards of the reading from the floor at the center of the circle and cleared his throat as he shuffled them back into the deck. He whistled, a warbling of sparrows, the click of a mockingbird, the cooing of doves. The Green Language, that background murmur, gone but never forgotten.
He had some hints of what was to come, of course, but would have to illuminate the way himself, if he was to truly know.
Blake stood at the door, blinking at it. He set the cards down on a bookshelf, almost absentmindedly, and unlocked the latch, the chain, and the deadbolt. Downstairs, someone was speaking in hushed whispers in the hall. It was time. The time was now. He checked his pocket for his keys, running his fingertips against their teeth. There, all there. It was time.
Stepping out of the protective circle inscribed into the living room floor, he entered the hall and locked the door behind him.