English Stories and books

Nevermore by Henry Lion Oldie (read)

Henry Lion Oldie. Nevermore

                             Then this ebony bird beguiling
my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum
of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven,
thou," I said,"art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven
wandering from the Nightly shore --
Tell me what thy lordly name is
on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
E. A. Poe, "The Raven".
...Dead grey waves were running over the dead molten sand and with

metronome precision rolling back to the horizon where the foaming sea
medley touched upon the dull sky torn up with gaping atmospheric holes
and whirlwind wells heavy with tornadoes. The sky was unwillingly
spitting small, scarcely luminous splashes into the filthy spittoon of
the Earth, the soil lightly smoking in the places of direct hits and
cooling down with caked crust — it had been smoking for a few years,
though. The wind was roaming along the coast, the wind was whistling in
the dry skeletons of a few remaining buildings, the wind was stirring
the dusty tulle of ashes, showing the bones buried under it. The sky was
gazing at the remains indifferently. It didn’t care…
In the first days corpses were so numerous that crows crazy with joy
indulged in luxurious feasts. Due to radiation the air was almost
sterile, and the birds’ squash dragged out for weeks, then — for
months… Decay progressed slowly, and when many of the flock grew bald
and died in the general hubbub and wing-flapping — their bodies would
remain unpecked. Winged brothers, ones of better luck — they preferred
human flesh.
Little by little crows noticed where the invisible death was lurking
and kept away from those places. By and by food was growing scarce, and
it was getting harder to find bodies untouched by decay or beaks; to
catch a rat was out of the question. In the first days after the End, in
spite of all prognoses, rats had far less luck than crows. Gloomy birds
were digging in the ruins, flying from one spot to another, raking light
rustling ashes; and no one wished to realize that the time of plenty had
lapsed into non-existence…
…The crow was sitting on the shore, waiting. The sea from time to
time brought something edible to the beach: a crushed starfish, a crab
boiled in its shell, a violet jellyfish… The crow was hungry and
angrily squinting its blood-red eye at the dirty surf foam. Nothing. Bad
era. Especially bad after the recent abundance slightly touched by
fire… The crow gave out a hoarse croak, and, for an instant, in the
grinding sound of its throat there came a forgotten word of a
forever-gone race. An alien race. Tasty and abundant. And never again
now… Never.
Another wave licked the damp sand of the beach with indifferent
rustling and rolled back like all the preceding ones, leaving the grey
flakes and a thing which was absolutely unsuitable for the depressing
monotony of the seashore. The thing’s edibility was doubtful — yet the
crow hobbled over to the pile of slowly receding foam where something
dark glistened…
On the sand there lay an ancient paunchy green-glass bottle firmly
corked and sealed. The crow squinted one eye at the cork, then the
other… At last its natural curiosity won. The bird pecked at the cork
cautiously. And once more, with more confidence… When the black
burglar managed to break through the layer of stone-hard tar it became
easier: rotten wood crumbled freely under the strokes of the tough beak.
Here, one more time, and again, and…
The frightened crow had just enough time to hop aside. Yellowish
brown smoke that broke out of the bottle-neck clouded above and
thickened, forming a naked meters-high bronze-skinned figure with an
agate mane.
— I heed and obey! — the giant’s deep voice thundered over the
dead shore.
Silence answered him. Only the grey waves rustling, only the dreary
wind whistling.
The genie shivered.
— Where are you, o master who released me?! What would you command:
to destroy a city or to build a palace?..
The crow, distrustful, shifted from foot to foot and decided against
coming closer for the time being.
Perplexed, the genie looked around, and saw, with horror and
disbelief the smoking ruins, the leaden sea and what in some places
showed from under the ashes disturbed by the wind. He shuddered and made
an involuntary step back to the long-familiar bottle. The step shook the
silent beach, and the crow gave out heart-rendering croaks. The genie
looked back.
— What would you command, o master? — he squatted before the bird,
and in his piercing eyes flickered a feeling of doom.
The crow ruffled up its feathers mockingly. The genie had already
realized what the hungry bird wanted, but he still made a hopeless
attempt to change the destiny.
— Maybe, I’d better build a palace? — the genie asked timidly. —
Or destroy a city…
The sullen crow glanced at the ruins. The genie sighed heavily and
set to his work…

x x x

…Smallest lumps of primeval protoplasm were merging and greedily

absorbing the nutritious substance from a thick warm broth permeated by
ultra-violet rays; they were splitting, increasing in number, their
structure was rapidly getting more and more complex, the strongest ones
were devouring the weak and surviving, and life was already getting out
onto the land and spreading all over the new unexplored spaces…
Giant reptiles were wandering among the giant ferns, the formidable
steam-roller of the Ice Age was flattening the shivering planet, and the
first ape grabbed a stick with its hairy hands… and men in chariots
threw their darts into the running barbarians, and Rome was burning, and
Dresden was in flames, and the first nuclear mushroom grew over the
secret proving ground, and a trembling finger hung over the scarlet
The genie hunched his back and got back into his bottle.

x x x

…Dead grey waves were running over the dead molten sand, and with

metronome precision rolling back to the horizon where the foaming sea
medley touched upon the dull sky torn up with gaping atmospheric holes
and whirlwind wells heavy with tornadoes.
The ancient paunchy green-glass bottle firmly shut with a tarred
cork lay on the soft sand. The crow scornfully brushed it with its wing,
and set out on a slow walk along the shore, stopping from time to time to
peck at the bodies lightly covered with sand. There was plenty of food.
The crow was satisfied.
The delicate hands of surf touched the bottle, turned it over and
drew back into the sea — farther and farther away from the silent shore.
Without looking back, the crow gave out a muffled croak, and for an
instant in the grinding sound of its throat there came a forgotten word
of a forever-gone race.
Never again.


(c) Henry Lion Oldie, 1991. (c) Translated from Russian by Mikhail Zislis, Irina Kapitannikova,


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