I awoke, free of consumption and my mortal body, in a rather indefinite place without light or darkness in it.
A disembodied voice was all around me, vibrating the ether that surrounded me. Or perhaps the ether vibrated and was the voice. I still don't know. VIRGINIA, it said, YOU MAY PASS TO YOUR ETERNAL REWARD NOW.
UNLESS YOU WOULD RATHER NOT.
I asked: Why would I rather not pass to my reward?
IF THERE IS ANYTHING LEFT UNDONE, OR ANYTHING YOU FEEL YOU WANT TO CHANGE, YOU MAY GO BACK UNTIL IT IS DONE.
I thought about it. By sickening and dying, I had left on earth my most pitiful husband, Allan, whose melancholy knew no bounds. Anything and everything seemed to put him into a brown study from which I could not rouse him. But what if I could tell him, from beyond the grave, that all would be well, that he would find peace? That he need suffer nevermore?
All right, I said, I shall go back. I will talk to him and tell him.
YOU MAY NOT GO BACK IN YOUR OWN FORM. THAT IS DEAD.
Then what do I do?
SUFFICIENT TIME HAS ELAPSED NOW THAT YOU CAN ANIMATE SOMETHING THE SIZE OF A DOG.
Then how should I speak to him?
...No answer. I had an idea.
Must I choose my form?
Birds can speak, I said. I choose to go as a talking bird.
VISUALIZE YOUR CHOICE.
... I tried to think of a South American pajaro, with its large vocabulary, but somehow the thought of all those colors in the midst of Allan's gloomy monochromatic schema was incongruous. Thinking of Allan, in fact, was a mistake. I was not a parrot, a cockatoo, a paraquito or conure, but a great black raven.
YOU HAVE CHOSEN. YOU WILL REMAIN AS YOU ARE FOR THE LIFE OF YOUR NEW VESSEL.
Oh, thanks ever so. Is there anything else you haven't told me about?
Well, then, I might as well get on with it, I thought. I spread my wings and glided down, down. I seemed to have innate knowledge on what to do, which was a relief. I practiced speaking, which was more difficult. I concentrated on one word, the word that would tell him there would be no more strife or suffering in the next world. Nevermore, I would say.
I could see the rooftops of Baltimore below me, and I quickly found the center of town and glided above streets I had traveled in life. It was nearly midnight, but I knew Allan would be up. This was his time of night. He'd be in his library, drinking himself into tears, as usual, and possibly he'd even be hard at work, scribbling words, thousands of words, until his right hand was in such agony, he would curse and shake it out and drink more. I knew him well, you see, but I loved him still. As always, the window of the room was closed tight, but a hallway window was open. I flew in and landed. There was scarcely room for my wings here, so I walked, like a pigeon, to his chamber door. Closed, as always. I tapped on it.
Inside, I could hear him crashing around. Something glass dropped to the floor and bounced, and he swore at it. I tapped again, and heard his heavy steps treading to the door. He opened it and stared out over my head into the hallway. "Virginia?" he breathed. Dear Allan! He had thought of the one question I could not answer. I was Virginia, but I was not. This seemed the wrong time to say "nevermore." Nettled, I tapped the toe of his boot with my beak softly, and he looked down at me.
"Oh, ho!" he said, with drunken heartiness. "And who are you? Tell me your name, my stygian friend!"
"Nevermore," I rasped, walking past him and looking at the room, at once familiar and utterly alien because of my new angle of view. I stepped around a fresh puddle of liquor. There was not a decent perch to be seen, so I flew up and sat on the head of Pallas and looked down at him. I knew I looked ungainly, but perhaps with his usual gloom, I was the right choice to tell him to despair no more.
He looked up at me, and mumbled. "Escaped from a circus," he said. "Somebody taught it to talk. Ha!" He was silent, and I could see him working his muscles of cogitation. I tried to retain my dignity, but suddenly something under my wing began to itch me, and without thinking, I began scratching it with my beak. "Wretch!" he shouted, and I stopped in mid-action and looked at him. "Tell me who sent you!"
"Nevermore," I said, without thinking.
"Leave me alone! I just want to drink. To drink and forget!"
He meant to forget me, and I know he meant it about drinking. I repeated, "Nevermore!"
That set him off. He asked me a bunch of questions. Stupid questions, rhetorical questions, touched -- or perhaps tetched -- with classical allusions. Oh, he knew his books. He read living authors for his bread and butter, but the dead were his chief friends, and his library was a graveyard of them. It was like a family argument, and I was armed only with one word. It mattered not! Each question, he phrased so that my sole answer would suffice to drive him farther and farther into the arms of drunken sadness. I was beginning to enjoy aggravating his mood, so resolved was he to wallow in his marsh of woes.
Finally, he ran out of words. I, of course, had run out long ago. He glared at me. I suppose I glared back at him. I know I was not beautiful. Why couldn't I have come back as a budgerigar? I don't know what he expected of me. He sank back in a stupor, staring up at me. I fluttered down to the floor and pushed my way out into the hallway and then went out the window. I passed the window of his chamber and peered in, and he was still staring up at the bust of Pallas that I had vacated. I am uncertain whether he even knew I had left.
And what was left for me? I thought about standing in a roadway and letting a carriage run over me, but would that not be the sin of suicide? It occurred to me that I was lucky not to be a parrot, for they live (I have heard) almost a century. Surely a raven could not live so abominably long as that! I therefore resolved to live the life I had been given, but I should live on my own terms. I would not eat insects, but find places where I could receive human food. Perhaps I would use my speech to find a human companion. An owner, if I must say it, who might let me live inside. Would I have to live in a cage? Well, so be it. I had no desire to stay outside, a plaything of the elements.
I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to teach all the crows in my dear husband's neighborhood to pronounce the word that so vexed him.
He will never know how lucky he was. He never did.