The Blackbird Whistling, or Just After, by Orrin Grey

(Download the audio version of this story here, or click the play button below.  Read by Mark Robinson.  Story illustration by Steve Santiago.)


The Blackbird Whistling or Just After – illustration by Steve Santiago – click to enlarge

We lost. It’s over. That’s it, nothing more to say. The end of everything.

The fire’s burning blue now, shot through with tongues of green. And soon there’ll be worse things. Fissures will open up in the ground, full of nameless darkness. The rains will start; first blood, then frogs. The moon will devour the sun, the mechanism of the heavens will break down and one by one the stars will be ground out. The earth will crawl away from the sea. The sea will swallow the earth. All the lost and forgotten things will come out of caves and closets, dark forests and locked rooms. Men will turn into beasts. And that will only be the beginning.

Already the light of the fire is starting to fail, but if you look hard through the gloom you can still see them there on the other side. Our enemies. The shadow man in his tophat and tails, the somnambulant giant standing behind him. The damp one in overcoat and false beard, his breathing ragged, his fingers webbed. The shape huddled in faded robes, its face a golden mask, its hands bent claws.

I remember you asking, earlier in the game, when we still didn’t know for sure who was who, why anyone would be on the other side. Do you remember it? We stood on a bridge, the moon in the water, the trees slowly shedding their leaves. I was just falling in love with you, falling moment by moment, as you do only when you’re first falling in love, and we had just learned for certain that we were on the same side. “Why would they do it?” you asked, looking down at the water, then up at me. “What do they think they’ll gain?”

I don’t know what I said to you then, but I’ve given it a lot of thought since, and I wonder. I wonder if maybe they’re not the bad guys we think of them as. If maybe there are no good guys or bad guys. If they really believe, in their hearts—or what serves them as hearts—that they’re right. That this is what’s best for the world.

Not the end at all, as we see it, but a new beginning. A chance at something better. Not for us. For us it’ll be horrible. And for them, as well. You asked what they hoped to gain. Maybe nothing. Maybe they’re the heroes here. Selfless martyrs. Maybe they know they’ll die screaming, just like we will. Maybe they go to it willingly, even fight for it, to make way for a better world. Not for us, and not for themselves, but for someone else, someone not yet born or made. Someone nothing like us, nothing like anything we’d recognize.

Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself now, as the fire dies away, to make what’s coming seem more bearable.

Are you crying? Before, I’d have kissed away your tears, but tonight I suppose you’ve earned them. If it’s not okay to cry for this, then what was crying made for? It’s probably what we should all be doing. Crying, or praying, if we think there’s anything left to pray to.  We should probably be doing anything but talking like this, talking on and on pointlessly, more pointlessly now than ever before.

The others have all gone, I think. Slipped out sometime during my soliloquy. Gone to whatever it is they plan to do with their last moments, in their victory or their defeat. Only you and I are left.

The fire’s almost dead now. It’ll be dark soon. A kind of dark this world has never seen. I don’t know what will happen then. I don’t know how long we’ll have. So kiss me, just once more, before the last of the light is gone.

Orrin says: It would be disingenuous to say that Roger Zelazny made me want to become a writer; I already wanted to be one before I ever encountered his work. But Zelazny certainly changed the way I thought about writing, and reading him made me want to become a better writer than I ever had before. And while I came first to Zelazny’s Amber series, A Night in the Lonesome October is the book of his that’s geared most directly for me, and it just might have the distinction of being my favorite novel of all time.  So when I saw that the Lovecraft eZine was doing a Night in the Lonesome October-themed issue, I knew I’d have to do something. As I tried to come up with something appropriate, I thought about a story that was set in the last waning moments after the “bad guys” won the game. Zelazny plumbed the figures of great Victorian and Gothic horror and mystery tales for his cast of characters, so for my brief, brief description of the assembled Openers, I decided to update the tropes a little bit and try to draw some villains more from the era of the pulps.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters. He pens tales of the uncanny, macabre, and supernatural, as well as nonfiction pieces about horror movies, comics, and weird fiction. Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, his first collection of supernatural tales, is due out any moment now from Evileye Books, and he’s currently co-editing an anthology of fungus-related stories for Innsmouth Free Press.

Story illustration by Steve Santiago.

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11 responses to “The Blackbird Whistling, or Just After, by Orrin Grey

  1. I really liked this piece. I was intrigued when I saw the teaser in the preview and I was hoping the complete work would be just as good as that sample. It’s the perfect length. You tell the story and then you end it, resisting the urge to pad it. I’ve always admired Zelazny’s restraint in this arena and I really enjoyed it here too.

    • Thanks, Ann! For the Openers, I didn’t have any specific characters in mind, but they’re supposed to be a voodoo-style zombie master (& his zombie), a gillman or deep one, and an Aztec mummy, respectively.

  2. This is the best coverage of the endgame of the presidential campaign I’ve read so far.

    Seriously, though, I really liked the story; very well written. I’m not sure I am supposed to read it this way, but I like that we only get the one character speaking; I am imagining that when he turns around to ask for that last kiss, he discovers that sometime during that last paragraph, she has abandoned him and gone off to find a stick with a good heft.

    • I like that reading!

      One of the things I really enjoy using in writing are ambiguous or unreliable narrators who can be read multiple ways (I especially like it when those narrators are talking right at you).

  3. Oh my god oh my god *whispering* This is beautiful. I love this! And you even got Baron Samedi in there! Oh! I’m going to read it again…

    • Wow, thank you! That’s the kind of thing I like to hear!

      Speaking of, I enjoyed your piece on THE HAUNTED PALACE. It’s a favorite of mine from the (almost) always-entertaining Corman/Price oeuvre.

  4. I loved the quiet resignation -yet so powerful- in the narrator’s tone and the somber anticipation of things to come… The “enemies” are terribly intriguing and the illustration does them justice.
    Short and dark. Excellent!

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