Under the Sign of the Black Raven – Part II
by Timothy J Jarvis
Part II of ‘Under the Sign of the Black Raven’. The first part can be found here.
Soundtrack: Black to Comm, ‘Void’
Martin’s investigations into the strange handbill turned up nothing. But then, in late 2006, entirely by chance, while researching witch trials in early Jacobean London, he found, among an archive of worn seventeenth-century broadsides, one that told a tale that struck him cold:
For some time after discovering the newssheet, Martin continued his enquiries. He learnt nothing further, as far as I’m aware.
In the summer of 2007, I lost contact with Martin. I learnt, during the winter of that year, from mutual friends, that no one had seen or heard from him for some months, not even his family or long-term girlfriend, Ruth. Then, on the 13th March, 2008, during a hailstorm, I happened to look out the window and saw him, outside my building, huddled beneath an old oak. I went to the front door of the block, called him over, took him up to my flat. He told me he’d been waiting for me, then began raving about ‘the Folk’ and eldritch terrors, said he was going to destroy ‘the cursed handbill’. I asked him if, instead, he would be prepared to sell it to me. A look of cunning fleeted across his face and he agreed, naming a small sum.
He went away, returning about an hour later with the flyer and a photocopy of the broadside he’d found. I paid him, and he left again. The next day, he rang me and, frantic, snivelling, begged me to burn the handbill. When I asked him why I should, he abruptly hung up.
Three weeks after that desperate phone call, Ruth and her parents were found, in her flat, brutally slain. Martin could not be located, was the main suspect in the killings. After his research field became known, the press troped the scene of the killings as the bloody climax of a Jacobean revenge tragedy. I don’t therefore know how many of the reported details were exaggerated or partially invented – the eyes scooped from their sockets, the breasts hacked off, the genitals mutilated, the tongues torn out at the root – but certainly the victims died gruesomely.
Two days later, Martin came to my building again. This time he pressed the buzzer for my flat. Wary, I did not let him in, but spoke to him on the intercom. He pleaded with me. I was the only one, he said, who knew the truth, that he wasn’t a killer, that it was the Fair Folk who’d made a shambles of Ruth’s flat. He bitterly cursed the day he discovered the handbill; it was his investigations, he claimed, that had drawn the Folk’s notice.
‘They meant no particular malice, though,’ he whined, then stifled a frenzied laugh. ‘They were just revelling, were encouraged by our screams.’
The police had frozen his bank account; he asked if he could borrow some money.
I went downstairs, opened the front door to my apartment block. Seeing him huddled, cowering, in the porch, I was shocked – he looked ravaged, feral. I took him to a cash machine, got some money out for him. Baring his teeth in thanks, he took it from me, then turned, loped away.
I never saw him again.
There are two brief epilogues to this tale. In the summer of 2009, I was involved in a project studying the earliest ‘corantos’, or printed newssheets, circulated in Britain. In one, from May 1621, I found a brief item reporting the deaths of a pair of swindlers:
Then, about four months later, ascending the escalator at Southwark underground station, I found a folded piece of paper in the pocket of my overcoat, put there, I suppose, by someone under the cover of the press of the crowd on the tube. On it was scrawled some bizarre verse: