“A Wise Perch and a Warm Hearth” by Roberta Goli

Today, Lise and Kevin are doing something a little different – below is the original short version submitted to Zoetic Press for NonBinary Review #12, The works of Edgar Allan Poe. Following that is a longer, erotic version that was published in her collection Unfettered. We’ll be heading back to high school to do a compare and contrast with the two pieces.

Version 1

Rain pelted the raven’s feathers as she dove towards the building. It was late, just after midnight, the light peeking through the gaps in the curtain creating a welcoming glow, visible the wet ground. She landed on the sill, shifting her head as she peered through the glass, her sharp vision taking in the capacious and resplendent room. At one end, a huge bookcase loomed, each shelf bursting with thick tomes. The other end displayed a welcoming hearth, though its embers were dying, causing ghastly umbras to stretch across the floor. A man was seated in a large chair facing the fire, the shadows dancing across his face as he rested his head upon a velvet cushion. He slept restlessly, an open volume upon his lap. The raven tapped at the window with a strong beak. The man jolted awake, startled by the sudden noise on such a dreary night.

He stood; eyeing the chamber door with unease, then jumped when the purple curtains fluttered from an unyielding mistral; the old window not quite meeting the frame perfectly. The raven watched curiously as the man muttered to himself, and languidly made his way to the door. He paused, then flung the door wide open, to be met by nothing more than darkness, for the raven sat upon the windowsill. He stood transfixed, the opacity threatening to consume him as he muttered the name of his lost love into the gloom. The bird heard, not the man’s voice, but rather the echo ‘Lenore’, a susurrus that reverberates around the room, washing over the man like an ocean of disconsolateness.

The raven tapped the window again and this time the man turned, his face a bloodless mask of anguish and fear as he approached the window to investigate the sound. He drew open the curtains and lifted the pane, inviting in the cold wind, which carried with it, the onyx fowl. She perambulates about the room, shaking out the water in a flutter of feathers, then ascends to find purchase upon a bust, which sits atop the chamber door. The man smiled, relieved and beguiled, closing the window to the frigid night, and begins conversing with his feathered guest.

She sits preening her ebony plume, not paying much attention during his allocution, until he asked her name. The raven paused, cocking her head and answered with a single word, “Nevermore.”

The man staggered back, his face crumpled in shock. After a moment of recovery, he begins to question the name, disbelieving the raven. Her obsidian eyes bore into the man’s watery blue orbs as she watched his increasing agitation. He wonders whether the raven is performing an act of mimicry, or if she is an ominous messenger on the dispiriting December evening, planning to abscond by daybreak, leaving the man alone again with his grief. As he pondered the significance of the raven and their colloquy, the bird watched, occasionally silencing his aberration by saying, ‘Nevermore’, as she sat undaunted upon the bust.

The man, becoming hysterical begins asking the raven a myriad of questions that she cannot know the answers too. She repeated, ‘Nevermore’, and watched as the man descended into his own tormented hell, never comprehending that he grieved for the lost Lenore and seeks a glimmer of hope that they will be reunited in death. He man gesticulates wildly, attempting to shoo the bird away, but she doesn’t flit, doesn’t blink, and merely sits, as the lamplight stretches her avian shadow across the floor, spreading over the man’s heart and mind as he crumpled in a heap of frenetic madness.

The raven, merely wishing to dry her feathers and seek shelter from the tempest, watched on, musing about the next time she sees the inviting glow of a fireplace through a window during a storm. ‘Nevermore’, she thinks.

Version 2

Rain pelted my feathers as I studied the outside of the manor house, so heavy as though the gods had emptied their chamber pots. Light from a hearth-fire shone through only one window, just to the left of the spectacular rose window which dominated the façade. The full moon peeked out from behind a smudge of gray clouds and I saw two gargoyles adorned the gables, flanking the single tower. Grotesque forms with hardened wings jutting from their backs, talons hooked over the edge of the roof; an ominous sight. The stately home was surrounded by large trees. Grey leafless branches, specters swaying in the breeze as fog drifted around their trunks like sentient life forms.

It was late, just after midnight and the evening was graveyard quiet. The orange light filtered through the gap in the curtain, creating a welcoming glow. I took flight and dove towards the window, landed on the sill. Wind pounded the brickwork, rattling shutters and sneaking in under my feathers to chill my bones. I shifted my head as I peered through the glass, my sharp vision took in the capacious and resplendent room. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, their candlelight flickered as air moved through the drawing room. At one end, a huge bookcase loomed, each shelf bursting with thick tomes. The other end displayed a welcoming hearth, though its embers were dying, causing ghastly umbras to stretch across the floor. The man was seated in a large chair facing the fire, the shadows danced across his face as he rested his head upon a velvet cushion. He was dressed in a white shirt, dark vest and black trousers. A long black coat had been flung over another chair and he’d kicked off his shoes, one stockinged foot lay across the other. He slept restlessly, an open volume upon his lap. I tapped at the window with my strong beak. It took several more raps at the glass before the man jolted awake, startled by the noise on such a dreary night.

He placed the book aside, nudging the empty teacup that rested on the rickety side table. He stood; eyeing the chamber door, then flinched when the purple curtains fluttered from an icy gust of wind; the old window not quite meeting the frame perfectly. I watched curiously through the curtain’s gap, as the man muttered to himself and languidly made his way to the door. He paused, then flung it wide open, to be met by nothing but darkness. He stood transfixed for a moment and I thought I heard him mutter something; perhaps the name of his lost love.

“Who’s there?” he called into the gloom. “Leave me to my misery.”

He slammed the door and leaned against it, hand to his chest.

I tapped again, more gently this time, the man turned to the window, his face a bloodless mask of anguish and fear. He approached to investigate the sound and drew the curtains aside with a trembling hand. His body sagged with relief when he saw me; a simple raven and lifted the pane and welcomed me inside. I flew up to the bust, which sat atop the chamber door and shook out the water in a flutter of feathers.

“You startled me,” he said. He closed the window to the frigid night and returned to his wingback chair. After a time, he became drowsy and drifted off to sleep. Now was the time. To have done it earlier would risk frightening him or worse, having him question his sanity. I had to take care. I flew from my perch and drifted in circles until I came to rest upon the floor in front of the hearth.

The air shimmered as the transformation took place. My feathers were absorbed only to reappear as hair as I misted into my human form. I stood naked in front of the hearth, my locks the same ebony color of my feathers, drifting seductively down my back like a silken waterfall, a small tuft between my legs. So dark in contrast to my pale featherless skin. As a woman, I’m young and nubile, as far as humans go; twenty-five years old, all the better to appeal to this charge who was only a few years my senior.

I took a breath and centered myself, becoming familiar once again to these lanky appendages. With practice, I’d become as graceful as when in raven form.

This was my first time as a harbinger of pleasure. I’d had sex in my human form before, I knew how to please a man, or woman, or both at once if need be, but this man would be my first charge. That alone made me anxious and a cold lump settled in my gut. If something went wrong, or he refused me, then I’d be demoted, losing my freedom to fly where I pleased, at least temporarily. I knew a harbinger who’d had her wing clipped, rendered unable to fly for almost a year until her next molt, for that very reason. I pushed the negative thoughts aside as I closed my eyes and focused on my training.

A memory of a time I’d been with Mordella came to mind, she’d become my favorite trainer, partly due to her sense of humor and natural beauty. Like me, her true form was Raven, but when I nuzzled the dark fur between her legs, I found her human musk enticing. She’d taught me which parts of the woman to press, which to stroke with a firmer hand and I recalled delicately probing her clitoris with my tongue and fingers and becoming excited by the glistening sheen that appeared on her pink lips. I’d pushed two fingers inside her then and used my thumb to rub her bud as I rhythmically moved my hand back and forth, faster and faster until she moaned loudly and her body shuddered. Afterwards, she’d told me I was ready for my first assignment.

My clit twitched and my nipples hardened. I was ready. I cawed softly, but the sound was melodic through my human lips, a siren’s call to lure the man. His eyes fluttered open and he sat upright in his chair, his jaw dropped.

“Who are you?”

“You needn’t be alarmed, I’m here to aid you.” I smiled, hoping to put him at ease.

“Aid me with what?”

“Your pain.”

He stared at me from his chair, his eyes trained on my face. It appeared to be a struggle for him and I flipped my hair with one hand and smiled when his eyes drifted over my body, lingering over certain areas a little longer than others. I shifted my feet apart and felt the slightest breeze caress my womanhood. The wet heat of my arousal grew under his scrutinizing gaze. He licked his lips, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

He stood to fetch the long black coat and wrapped it around my shoulders.

“Are you hurt? Lost?” He looked from window to door. “How did you get in here?”

He took a step away from me as if afraid.

“Who are you?” he asked again.

“Who I am is of no consequence, it’s what I am that matters.”

“What are you then?”

I didn’t answer, instead I took a step forward, then another until I was standing close enough for him to touch me. He didn’t. I saw him swallow. Nervous perhaps. My obsidian eyes bore into his and I recognized his need and curiosity. He slid a hand through my silken hair and pulled me close enough to kiss. His lips sent a shiver through my body and I moaned then pulled away. I was there to serve him. I shrugged off the coat and sunk to my knees, undoing the laces of his trousers and tugging them down. He stroked my hair as I curled my fingers around his already hard shaft. It was warm in my hand, I rubbed, felt the loose skin beneath my palm.

“You don’t have to,” he said.

“I want to.” It was the truth, my arousal was growing with each touch, each lingering look. “Do you want me to?” My mouth was close enough for him to feel my hot breath on his skin.

His breath hitched. “Yes.”

I smiled and tentatively traced my tongue against the head, he moaned softly and I slid my mouth over the entire phallus. His moans increased as my lips and tongue teased with gentle long strokes, then aggressive sucking. I felt the wetness between my legs increase and I began working my thighs back and forth, rubbing my labia together. The wind moaned outside, making its way through cracks in the walls. His hands moved through my hair and across my back and he gently rocked his hips forward against my mouth. My clit throbbed impatiently and when I could bear it no longer, I slid a hand between my legs and circled it with two fingertips. I moaned against his cock and suddenly he shuddered and released his seed. I withdrew my hand from between my thighs and watched him for a moment, waiting for him to recover, for there was more I was to do this evening.

He leaned forward and kissed me, a slow passionate kiss and while our lips were pressed together, his fingers slid through my wet folds and teased my bud. I’m in awe of human sexual responses, it’s almost as if the body had a mind of its own. A moment later he pulled away, kicked off his trousers, then guided me onto the rug in front of the hearth. I lay on my back, knees in the air. Twin crossed swords hung above the mantle, behind him, a beautiful tapestry depicting a couple dancing covered most of the wall. He hovered above my breasts for a moment before taking a nipple into his mouth and biting gently, then moving to the other breast. I squirmed as his lips moved down my body, kissing, licking and biting, until finally he moved between my legs. I should stop him. I felt his hot breath on my cunt and my clitoris throbbed dully as he licked circles around it until he finally flicked his tongue against it. I groaned in pleasure. Soon his gentle licks where replaced with long, firm strokes on my center and I started moaning to the gods. I’m supposed to be pleasuring him. I wondered briefly if I’d be chastised for this indiscretion, then remembered a conversation where I was warned this could happen, and as long as the charge was satisfied, the harbinger’s pleasure was inconsequential. Suddenly I didn’t care, as the first wave of my orgasm radiated out.

He pulled away abruptly and coughed into his mouth. His brow creased. To my absolute horror he pulled out a wet black feather. I sat up, snatched it from his hand, tossed it into the fire and kissed him quickly, hoping to distract him. With my free hand I once again curled my fingers against his cock and began working my hand up and down. He hardened quickly, then scrambled out of the rest of his clothing. Now we were both completely naked, the orange glow of the fire reflected off our sweat-sheened skin.

His weight pinned me to the floor as he teased my cunt with shallow plunges. He arched into me, his cock sliding deep, stretching my walls open as he fucked me, steady and slow. I raised my hips in time with him, dancing to a beat no one could hear but us. His hands rested on the floor beside my breasts as he impaled me over and over again, his cock now moving like a piston. If I’d have spread my legs any further apart, I was sure they’d snap off. His hand snaked its way to my pulsing clit where he rubbed aggressive circles as he plunged into me. I cupped my breasts in my hands, rolling the nipples between my fingertips.

My climax, frightened away earlier by a misplaced feather, had returned with a vengeance and it ripped through me like a tsunami. A tingling electric heat shuddered through my body, satisfying and slow and I cried out as he groaned and strained, then collapsed beside me.

We lay still while we caught our breath, sweaty and sticky, his arm was thrown haphazardly across my belly. Soon he slept, but I could not. I slid out from beneath his arm, still heady from the musky smell of our sex and opened the window. The cool breeze kissed my skin, drying my sweat and reinvigorating me. Feral dogs bayed outside as I changed shape again and wriggled my way back into my feathered body. I hopped over to the hearth and watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he breathed and hoped he’d have pleasant dreams. Hoped I’d done enough to wrench him from his dark mood of misery.

Outside the wind howled as I plucked out a feather from my breast and gently placed it in his upturned palm. It’s important he’d know it was no dream. The other harbingers said the charges sometimes asked them to stay, which is why it’s best to leave while they slept. I looked at his peaceful face and wondered if he’d ask me. I can see why one would be tempted, but I cannot. If I did I’d lose my magic, stay in human form indefinitely, never to fly again. Besides, there are so many more people to help.

I took flight, before I dared wake him. The rain had eased, though frost crystals still covered the trees making them appear white. The sky as grey as the dying embers of a fire, with just a hint of pink, signalling a fine day lay ahead. The city was carpeted by a shifting fog as I flew over bridges and castles, between towers and passed churches. An eerie, undulating cry rings out and echoes through the empty streets below and I wonder if it’s him. Has he woken to find me gone and spiraled into a pit of despair? I tried to force him from my mind; reassured myself he still slept by the hearth. Mordella had warned me some harbingers become attached to their first charge and that’s where the greatest risk of losing someone to their human side lies.

“What do you do if someone asks if you’ll stay or come back?” I’d asked her. She explained she told her charges the same thing and advised her harbingers to do similarly.

“You pluck out the feather and tell them Nevermore.”

It’s quiet again, buildings loom like monoliths against the ashen sky. The sun will be up in a few hours. I fly with a sense of urgency, eager to get home. Afraid I might turn back.