This month’s story is Corvid Poe and the Poet’s Pen, by C.O. Bonham. To download a printable .pdf file of the story, please click here.
Corvid Poe and the Poet’s Pen
by C.O. Bonham
Corvid Poe, Cor to anyone who wasn’t her parent or teacher, was ninety percent sure that she was no relation to the classic author of all things dreary and morbid. Relation or not, didn’t matter, her father leaned into the moniker hard. Her younger brother, Nevermore, was proof of that.
Other than their names, the Poe siblings lived pretty normal lives. They attended school and lived in the creepy rundown house that sat just past the town limits.
Despite their father’s most fervent hopes, the house was not haunted. Until, that is, the day of Cor’s thirteenth birthday. Much to her regret, and her father’s delight, her birthday was January 19th—Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday.
She was not looking forward to English class today. Her teacher Mrs. Lee was just as taken with Poe, the poet and storyteller, as Father was. It made for awkward parent teacher conferences.
Class was almost over. One by one members of the class had gotten up to read their poems from the write your own poem assignment. By some miracle they had gone almost the entire class period without any mention of Poe, or birthdays. All she needed was ten more minutes and she wouldn’t even have to read hers until tomorrow. Thankfully, Percy came before Poe.
Logan Percy got to his feet and began the march to the front of the class. Logan was the shyest person Cor had ever met. He would never speak unless spoken to first and his eyes were perpetually glued to the ground. As he passed her, she could see his knees knocking together. Sweat was beading on his brow and the paper in his shaking grip made a crinkling sound.
She couldn’t take it anymore, why was Mrs. Lee making him do this? Every teacher in school knew better than to make Logan speak in public. Before she could process what she was doing, she was on her feet. “Mrs. Lee, I’d like to go next please.”
Mrs. Lee smiled so wide Cor thought her lower jaw would fall off her face. “Splendid dear. Logan you may return to your seat.”
Logan nearly collapsed; the relief coming off him was palpable. He mouthed a silent, “thank you,” to her and flew back to his seat before Mrs. Lee could change her mind.
Cor pulled out her poem and trudged forward. She couldn’t bring herself to be mad at Logan. This was her fault, best to see it through.
“I’m so glad you volunteered, Corvid. Class, as you may know today is Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday. What a fortuitous day to hear a poem from a Poe.”
The class laughed. Cor cringed. Best get this over with. She sucked in a large breath and read.
Cor stopped reading. No one spoke. No one applauded. The class stared back at her, processing her morbid reminder that Halloween was fun and true death was depressing.
The bell rang, and the silent room was filled with the scraping of chairs and the scrambling of feet as everyone raced to escape the gloomy atmosphere.
On her way back to her seat Cor caught Logan’s eye and he actually smiled at her.
Naturally, by the time she had her desk cleaned up, she was the last one in the room. Last—save for Mrs. Lee that is.
“Corvid, that was a lovely poem. Such a fine addition to your family’s legacy.”
Cor shrugged her backpack up onto her shoulder. “We aren’t related to Edgar Allen Poe. It’s a common last name and he died without children.” She should know this. What kind of English teacher didn’t know which authors had descendants?
“It was still beautiful all the same. That was such a nice thing for you to do, volunteering for Logan like that.”
“Thanks?” How could she tell Mrs. Lee that it was her fault for making Logan read instead of just letting him hand in his assignments like every other teacher?
“Before you go, I wanted to give you a birthday present.”
Cor held her hands up in a halt gesture. “That’s not necessary. I’m not sure that’s even ethical.”
“Don’t be silly.” Mrs. Lee pulled open her top desk drawer and reached inside. “It’s perfectly all right for me to give a birthday gift to whoever I choose.” She pulled out a long skinny tube, tied with a ribbon around the middle. “And after that poem you wrote, I am more sure than ever that this is something you will be able to use.” She held out the tube to Cor.
Cor reached out and accepted the wooden tube. What was it, a fancy pencil case? “Thank you, Mrs. Lee. I’ll have to open it later. I need to get to my next class.”
“Oh, of course dear. I’m sure you will take good care of her.”
Her? Cor slipped the tube into her backpack and rushed out of the classroom.
Cor forgot about the impromptu gift until lunch that day. She spotted Logan in the cafeteria, when he looked up and waved at her, she took that as an invitation. She set her tray down and sat in the seat across from him.
“Thank you,” he said, without looking up.
“It was nothing.” Cor shoved her sandwich in her mouth and took a bite. After swallowing she added, “You know she’s just going to make you read yours tomorrow, right?”
“I—I’m hoping she’ll forget.” Logan spooned a glob of pudding out of its little cup and forced it in his mouth.
Cor considered this and decided it was possible. Since Logan should have gone before Cor, Mrs. Lee might forget he hadn’t read yet.
“Why did Mrs. Lee ask you to stay behind?” Logan asked. “You weren’t in trouble because of me, were you?”
Cor shook her head. “No. She wanted to give me something. She reached into her bag and pulled out the wooden tube. Now that she was looking at it carefully, she could see three letters carved into the wood. They were in fancy script and shimmered gold in the fluorescent lights. The letters were E. A. P. Cor groaned. Some obscure piece of Edgar Allen Poe memorabilia. Maybe she could give it to her dad.
“Wow, that’s a fancy pencil case.” said Logan, clearly searching for words to keep the awkward silence at bay.
“Yeah, it is.” The tube did make a faint rattling sound. She grabbed the top and the bottom and pulled the two halves apart. Inside was a skinny black stick with a sharp metal point.
Logan raised an eyebrow. “She gave you an Exacto knife?”
Cor shook her head. “No, it’s a nib and ink pen. You have to dip it in ink to write with it.” It was exactly the kind of pen the late, lamentable Poe would have used. “Great, she gave me a pen I can’t write with.” She set it on the table in front of her and didn’t say a thing as Logan reached out and picked it up. He could keep it for all she cared.
They ate in silence until Cor finished her food and looked up. Logan was staring at her. He looked both fascinated and frightened. “What? I’m not mad. Keep the pen if you like it.” No response. He wasn’t staring at her; he was staring behind her. She turned and saw, standing in the aisle, a young woman about the age of the seniors who went to the adjoining high school. But she didn’t dress like a senior. Her dress was old. Very old and wispy. She was also nearly transparent.
The ghostly woman broke eye contact with Logan and locked gazes with Cor. “You must be The Poe. Don’t panic dear. Only those who have touched the pen can see me. You wouldn’t want to look silly in front of your classmates, would you?”
Cor jumped out of her seat and ran all the way back to Mrs. Lee’s classroom. She stood in the doorway panting heavily. Mrs. Lee placed half of a sandwich on her desk and spun her chair around to face Cor. “Well, that took longer than I thought it would. I was starting to wonder if you’d ever open my gift.”
Footsteps came up behind her. Cor whirled around and saw Logan, still holding the pen standing there. The spectral lady was floating beside him. “Annabel said you’d come here,” he said, motioning to the ghost beside him.
“Annabel?” Cor’s brain filled in the rest of the name and she turned back to her teacher before finishing, “Lee.”
Mrs. Lee nodded and stood up from her desk. “Better come in dears, we have a lot to discuss.”
Cor and Logan started towards their usual desks out of habit. Mrs. Lee coughed and when they turned around, she motioned them forward. “No need to sit so far down. We can talk better if you bring a chair up to my desk.”
They each grabbed the closest chair and dragged them up to her desk at the front of the room. Cor did not sit. She folded her arms over her chest and glared at her teacher. “So why is the ghost of a fictional character haunting a pen?”
“Because my story isn’t finished!” shrieked Annabel Lee. “I need someone to finish writing my story.”
Cor had two issues with this statement. Well, actually three. “First of all, you aren’t real, how is this possible? Secondly, you are from a poem not a story, one that was pretty final at that. Above all, why me?”
Mrs. Lee raised a hand indicating that everyone should calm down and let her speak. “Let me start with how the pen came to me. It has been handed down in my husband’s family for many years. They have a distant ancestor named Annabel Lee and I can only assume that everyone believed this was her spirit.” Mrs. Lee paused to indicate the ghostly apparition once more. “It was our thirteenth wedding anniversary when he finally gave me the pen and told the story. I immediately made the Poe connection and set out many times to write a satisfactory ending to Annabel’s story. That was three years ago. As you can see, nothing I have written has been good enough for her.”
“It has to be a Poe. I can’t have just anyone write my story.” The ghostly figure crossed her arms and when she tried to stamp her foot it went into the floor without a sound.
“That makes no sense.” Cor glared back at the ghost. “Poe’s works are public domain. Literally anyone can do anything with your poem.”
Logan was sitting in the seat he had dragged up, still fiddling with the pen. “Magic has no regard for copyright laws I guess.”
“Indeed,” agreed Mrs. Lee. “On to your other concerns. If you have been paying attention in class, then you know that many epic stories have been told in verse. Also, just because a story is published, doesn’t mean it’s finished.”
The spectral young lady glided over to Cor. “Please, miss Poe. Will you finish my story?”
“I don’t know how. I’m not a writer. I’m not related to Edgar Allen Poe. And your story has an end. Lover boy visits your tomb and lays down beside you to die.”
“Don’t you see how unsatisfying that ending is? It misses the point of the whole poem. And the whole being chilled to death makes no sense.”
Cor thought for a moment. In the poem Annabel Lee dies when the angels in heaven grow jealous of her and send a wind from the sea to kill her. Could angels get jealous? Why would angels kill someone? This poem really was problematic on many levels. Which still left one question to be answered. “Why me?”
Annabel pinched the bridge of her nose and exhaled. “Look it might be a stupid rule, but this is the rule of the pen. Only someone named Poe can write with it.”
“Mrs. Lee said she was trying to write your story, but it wasn’t good enough,” Logan said.
“I was writing on a word processor. But it only counts if you write with the pen.” Mrs. Lee reached out and took the pen from him. “I tried every ink I could find. I even tried writing in blood once.”
Cor felt a shiver run down her spine. Whose blood did she use?
“Nothing worked. I could dip this pen in anything but when I went to write there was nothing there.” Mrs. Lee handed the pen out to Cor. “Just try it. If nothing happens then we’ll pretend this conversation never happened.”
Cor took the pen from her and held it in her fingers as if she were ready to write. “Do you have any ink?”
She held out a notepad. “Just try it without first. I have a feeling that you’ll be surprised.”
Cor reached out to the notepad and scrawled the first thing she thought to write. There in bright glowing script appeared the words: “This can’t possibly work.” Cor dropped the pen and stepped back from the notepad. “That’s not possible.”
“Possible or not. It happened.” Their teacher turned her attention to her other pupal. “Logan, why don’t you try writing with the pen just so she can see that it’s not a trick.”
Logan stood, picked up the pen, and scribbled on the notepad. “She’s right, Cor. Nothing’s happening.”
The bell rang and lunch was over.
The rest of the day was a blur for Cor. The pen weighed on her mind while burning a metaphorical hole in her backpack. The spectral visage of Annabel continued to follow her around school though, thankfully she was considerate enough to not bother Cor and make her look insane.
Once the final bell rang and school was over Cor found Logan and did something she knew she would regret. “Come home with me.”
“What?” Logan’s eyes were round. He was obviously not used to being talked to by anyone. Just as Cor wasn’t used to talking to anyone.
“Please come with me. We can tell our parents we’re working on a group project. Don’t make me deal with Annabel Lee alone.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw the ghost stick her nose in the air at the suggestion that she was anything other than a delight to be around.
Logan pulled out his phone. “I can text my mom, but I can’t promise she’ll say yes.” Almost immediately his phone dinged indicating a reply. Logan looked up from the device with even wider eyes. “She said yes, stay as long as you need. Text me when you’re ready to come home.”
Cor had always assumed that Logan’s shyness was the result of an overprotective mother, but maybe it was the opposite problem. Maybe he had an overly pushy mother. Either way it worked for Cor. “Great, we can walk from here.”
Cor used her key to unlock the two-story old colonial house that let in every cold wind that a January in Maryland could throw at it. The door creaked as they entered the silent house. It was strange, Dad should have been home from picking up Nev from school. What was stranger was that dad hadn’t mentioned anything about plans for tonight. It was her birthday and she had been afraid that she’d have to make an excuse to get out of family time.
An investigation of the kitchen revealed a note:
“Well that was easier than I thought.” Beside the note was a flier about the symposium. It was called Ravens and Writing Desks. “Poe, it figures. That’s the only thing that would make Dad miss my birthday.”
Logan cleared his throat. “Carroll actually. ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’ was coined by Lewis Carroll, not Edgar Allen Poe.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better.”
He shrugged. “If you’re going to blame a dead author, at least be mad at the right one.”
Cor had no response for that so instead she threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave. Once their snack was done, they sat down and got to work on the problem of Annabel Lee.
Cor read through the poem aloud once, then looked at Annabel. “So what kind of story are you looking to be in?”
The specter leaned over the table. Her glowing golden locks fell around her face. “A love story, obviously.”
“This is already a love story.” Cor looked to Logan. “What do you think?”
“It’s all a bit like Romeo and Juliet isn’t it? At the end the narrator lays down beside his bride to share death with her.”
“Right,” said Annabel. “It’s derivative. I want an original love story, one with a happy ending.”
Logan rubbed his chin in thought. “He could kiss her at the end instead. Wake her up like in Sleeping Beauty.”
Both of them looked at Annabel Lee. She shook her head. “My story is not a fairy tale.”
Cor looked at the poem and read the opening aloud again. “‘It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea,’ That sounds like a standard fairytale opening to me.”
Logan nodded. “Definitely a fairytale.”
Cor opened an empty notebook and placed the tip of the pen to the paper. “Okay, so it’s a fairy tale. Let’s ditch the angels and make it a jealous fairy. A curse that Annabel Lee must never marry for love.”
“What’s the motivation?” Logan asked.
Cor thought. “Because the fairy wanted to marry her mother, but she chose to marry for status instead of love.”
Annabel hovered behind Cor’s shoulder. “I suppose it could work. But it sounds like I’m to be a minor character in my own story.”
Cor stopped writing and turned. “You are a minor character. The main character is the narrator who kills himself at the end.” She stuck the top of the pen to her lips. “Hmm, he’ll need a name. Moore.”
Logan raised an eyebrow. “Why Moore?”
“It’s an anagram for Romeo.”
Logan nodded in agreement. “Makes sense.”
As the story unfolded on the page, she found herself in a state of flow. Annabel’s protests and Logan’s suggestions became background noise as the glowing words filled page after page. As she neared the end, Cor looked up and saw that Annabel Lee was nearly invisible now. She glanced at Logan and dropped her pen. He too was almost completely transparent. She looked at her own hands and saw the tabletop through them. “What’s happening?”
The room around Cor vanished and was replaced by an open field. A winding road meandered through it into the distance. The sound of crashing waves and sea birds came from behind her. A chill wind sent a shiver up her spine. She crossed her arms over her chest and turned. There, overlooking the churning waves, was a white marble sepulcher. It looked like a small chapel but instead of open doors and wooden pews, it had closed iron bars and a cold stone sarcophagus in the center. Above the iron gate was inscribed the name: Annabel Lee.
“Where are we?”
Cor whipped her head to the left and saw Logan standing there. “You can see this too? I was kind of hoping I had just fallen asleep.”
Logan grinned. “We could both be having the same dream.”
“It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen today.”
Logan walked up to the iron bars. “Where did Annabel go?”
Cor joined him and pointed to the sarcophagus, with the effigy of Annabel on it. “I’m pretty sure she’s in there.”
“So she’s still dead then, you couldn’t save her?”
Cor shook her head. “You still don’t understand, she isn’t real. This is the end of the poem. Where the poem ends the story begins.”
Horse hooves pounded the ground behind them. Logan turned to her. “So we need to stop Romeo from killing himself?”
Cor swallowed. “Yes.” She turned to face the horseman. He was already dismounting, his green cape fluttering behind him in the sea’s bitter wind. He wore a green hat that looked like one a musketeer would wear. For some reason her brain had decided the kingdom by the sea would be France.
He lifted his head so that his face was visible beneath his hat’s brim. Cor gasped to see that he looked like a younger version of her father. Fuller hairline, a smoother face, but the same haunted expression he’d worn ever since her mother had died. It made sense that this was the image her author brain would pull up when trying to write about a man who’d just lost the love of his life.
The man approached them hesitantly. “Good day, children. What brings you to such a dreary place as this, when you both clearly have so much life left to live?”
Cor crossed her arms and stood her ground. “We could ask the same thing of you.”
He pulled his wide brimmed hat off his head. “My name is Moore, and I’m here to pay for my sins. There is no life before me save for one of suffering and regret.”
Cor was about to tell Moore the whole story. The real story, everything about this being a story and the stupid pen, all of it. The words were on her tongue when suddenly she froze up. The words stuck in her mouth and she could barely breathe.
Logan watched in horror as Cor raised a hand to her throat. She made a choking motion. If Cor couldn’t talk that meant he’d have to do the talking. “Cor are you alright?” He patted her on the back until she calmed down.
Cor took deep breaths and managed to whisper something in his ear. “Don’t break the narrative.”
That made sense. They were in the story, so everything had to make sense within the context of the world. He turned to Moore. “You said you’re here to pay for your sins. But love is not a sin. And even if you did do something wrong, isn’t redemption the better option? You should be looking for a way to save Annabel. There has to be a way to save her. Why aren’t you trying?”
“To be so young and hopeful again. I’m afraid that death is a greedy miser and will not return that which he has once gained.”
“But you said it was this Lord of the North wind. He’s Fae right? This isn’t death, it’s some kind of magic. Magic that can be broken.”
Moore clasped Logan by the shoulders. “Look I understand where you’re coming from, but dead is dead.”
Logan pushed Moore away and motioned to the sepulcher. “Look at her body. If Annabel Lee is showing signs of decay, I’ll drop it, but if she’s still perfectly preserved, it means we have a chance.”
Moore seemed to stagger under the weight of what Logan was asking. “What do you mean by this?”
“I mean decomposition, the stages of a body returning to dirt. Did you think she would always be lying there beautiful and unblemished?”
“No. Wait, I mean, Annabel will always be beautiful. She is preserved in death’s eternal embrace.”
“Not if she’s really dead. So, don’t waste your life if there’s still hope.”
Moore seemed to consider this. He turned without speaking and walked into the stone building. Slowly he pushed open the stone sarcophagus. A gasp escaped his mouth. “I knew it. Still beautiful.” Moore turned to Logan. “So young man, what do I do now?”
Logan looked at Cor, silently asking her what to do. Then it came to him. The only way a story like this could end. “She’s your wife, right? Kiss her.”
Moore leaned over the side of the sarcophagus and touched his lips to something just out of sight.
Cor and Logan both held their breath as they looked on. Were they watching a fairytale unfold or had they just tricked a man into kissing a corpse?
Slowly, Moore’s head reappeared, a smile stretching across his face.
Another head appeared over the side of the stone casket. Annabel Lee’s smiling mouth and sparkling blue eyes were trained on her love. Her hands grasped the sides of her resting place and pulled herself up. Moore’s strong arms reached out to help her. As soon as she was out and standing beside Moore, an icy wind blew in from the sea.
A tall and incredibly fair man appeared before the door of the sepulcher. “I am the Lord of the North Wind. Who dares to undo the justice I have wrought?”
“This wasn’t Justice,” said Moore, clutching Annabel to his side. “You condemned my wife to an eternal sleep. Not even true death so she could rejoin her loved ones in God’s heaven.”
“Loved ones? Bah, there isn’t a human alive who wouldn’t sell their dearest relation for fame, wealth, or power.”
“You are wrong sir. I love this woman more than life itself. I was ready to end my life beside her forever. I would have too, if a bright young man hadn’t pointed out the error in my logic.”
The Fae lord crossed his arms and stared Moore down. “That is just proof of how foolish you are. Death separates many couples and they do not commit an unforgivable sin for it.”
Corvid turned to Logan and whispered. “This is getting a little dark I didn’t mean to start a discourse on the nature of suicide.”
Logan nodded and stepped towards the imposing figure whose skin was as white as the Sepulcher. “What do these two need to do for you to leave them alone?”
The Lord of the North Wind turned to him and smiled. “If you wish to speak for them then you must take up their challenge. Do something brave, face your fear and show me an act of love. Complete this within one day’s time, and I will let this story end happily.”
Before Logan could ask any clarifying questions, the Fae snapped his fingers and he and Corvid were back at the dining room table.
“What was that?” Corvid asked. She looked all around but no trace of Annabel Lee, Moore, or the Fae lord could be seen. She looked down at the page she had been writing and after the Lord of the North Wind’s demand was a blinking red line, like a cursor on a computer screen. “What are you going to do?”
Logan shrugged. “Do I have to do anything?”
She turned the page and showed him the blinking line. “This would seem to imply that you do.” She picked up the nibbed pen and tried scratching something out with it, but no words appeared. “Nothing’s happening. I think you really do have to show him an act of love to finish the story.”
Logan visibly swallowed. “I was afraid of that.” He hung his head and rested it in his hands. “I’ll try to think of something.”
Just then the door opened, and Cor’s father, brother, and Grandmother came in. Her father took a stance in between her and Logan. “Well, who is this?”
“Dad, this is Logan. We had a group project to work on for English class.”
Her father held out a hand to Logan. “I’m Allen Poe. Nice to meet you Logan.”
Logan shook the older man’s hand and raised an eyebrow. “Allen Poe?”
Her father cleared his throat. “It’s an old family name. So Logan, can you stay for supper? We have pizza and cake.”
Logan looked at Cor as if asking for permission. She was torn between wanting Logan to leave before Dad said something embarrassing and wanting her new friend to stay. Before she could say anything, Grandma set a large crow shaped cake on the table and said, “Of course he’s staying, I need an unbiased opinion of how my cake tastes.”
Nevermore came up to the table and eyed the crow cake greedily. “Your cake is always the best Grandma.”
She patted his head. “Well thank you, Nev. But I’m afraid your opinion is biased.”
Logan stayed, and despite the weirdness, it turned out to be a very happy birthday indeed.
The next day at school Mrs. Lee said nothing about Annabel or the pen. Class was devoted to finishing the readings of the student written poems. Corvid watched and Cody Zachary finished his poem and sat down. Only five minutes left and it did indeed look like Logan was in the clear.
Mrs. Lee stood up and addressed the class. “What a great selection of poems. I am very impressed with all of you.”
Suddenly out of the corner of her eye, Cor saw a hand shoot up into the air. “Mrs. Lee, I never got to read my poem.”
Mrs. Lee nodded. “Indeed, you didn’t. Thank you for reminding me Logan. That’s very brave of you.”
As Logan walked to the front of the class, Cor pulled out the unfinished story. The line was still blinking.
Logan held his poem out in front of him and began reading.
Logan paused to take a breath and Cor sat up straighter. What was this? Yes, he was brave to read in front of the class. But Crows and Ravens? Was this a poem about her?
Logan resumed reading:
Corvid looked down at the page in her hand. The writing filled itself in.
Touched by the act of bravery and love, the Lord of the North Wind left the kingdom by the sea and vowed never to interfere with the love of mortals again. What happened to Annabel Lee and her Moore? They lived happily ever after.
© 2023 C.O. Bonham. All rights reserved.
Thank you for reading this odd little story. When Michelle contacted me with the challenge of writing a story with the only stipulation that it have something to do with January, I was stumped at first. Naturally the mind goes to New Years and new beginnings.
After looking through all the obscure holidays and coming up with nothing exciting, I turned to famous birthdays. Low and behold Edgar Allen Poe was born on January nineteenth.
When it comes to Poe I am transfixed by his tragic and macabre prose. But one poem kind of stands out from the rest. The short rhyming verses of Annabel Lee. It starts like a fairy tale and ends like a Shakespearean tragedy.
While not uncommon for Poe, the poem always felt a little unfinished to me. I figured the titular Annabel Lee would think so too.
C.O. Bonham is the pen name for a commonly misspelled first name. She loves stories of all kinds, but really likes the ones that are weird, and outside the norm. A certified book geek, when she isn’t writing stories of her own she is busy reading stories by others. A homeschool graduate with a degree in creative writing, her goal is to create stories that make people think, feel, and have fun.
Her debut novel Runaway Lyrics, a steampunk fantasy retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, released in 2021.
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