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A Flower Bursting From
My Head © Dee Rimbaud

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Melissa Smith's [since 2006] introduction to magic realism was in an undergraduate World Literature class where the teacher decided to throw out the Norton anthology and assigned individual novels. It was in the pages of Allende's Eva Luna where Melissa encountered magic realism for the first time and it resonated with her soul. So much so, in fact, that as an English grad student, she completed a creative writing thesis titled Nonesuch, a collection of MR stories. In her free time, she enjoys participating in MR Central's workshops.

"Magic Realism is more than a literary genre or style of writing: Magic Realism is life. Magic Realism takes in the wonder of the worlds we inhabit and turns these into a mirror in which we may examine ourselves."


It was a hot day when Cassandra was born. The sun throbbed in the stark blue sky, each throb an urgent pulse of heat. Cassandra’s mother, Lucy, hadn’t realized she was pregnant. Late in the afternoon, well after dinner, Lucy walked through the yard, refilling the birdbaths with fresh water and topping off the bird feeders. This took her longer than usual as she carried a broom in one hand for protection.

One evening three weeks earlier, Lucy had heard a ruckus outside; a tired-looking raven perched on the rim of one of the birdbaths. The local birds, or her ‘regulars’ as Lucy liked to call them, squawked and flapped at the newcomer.

“Shoo,” Lucy fussed at the birds. “There’s plenty for everyone.” The others flew away, leaving the raven alone to drink. Lucy stood close to the bath while it drank.

“Poor thing,” she said. The raven had looked up and regarded Lucy for a few moments, tilting its head from side to side. In one swift move, the raven pecked Lucy’s stomach and flew away. It had scared Lucy more than it had hurt her, though it had left a nasty mark that swelled for a day. Lucy’s house woman, Jen-Jen, who had been with Lucy so long that she was more family that hired help, was quite calm when Lucy had come screaming into the house. Jen-Jen poured peroxide on the wound and, when it stopped foaming, she placed a poultice on it and talked Lucy out of going to the doctor. Since then, Lucy did not go out unarmed to tend to the birds.

Her calico shift, damp with sweat, clung to her, and the effort of hauling the garden hose around the yard caused her back to ache. When Lucy felt a sharp twinge in her stomach she assumed it was the heat getting to her and decided to go lie down until it passed. She propped the broom beside the back door and went inside.

Jen-Jen was in the kitchen washing dishes.

"Lucy, you’re flushed.” Jen-Jen dampened a clean rag and handed it to Lucy.

“Too much sun I s’pose.” Lucy pressed the rag to her forehead and with her other hand she rubbed her stomach. “This extra weight doesn’t help much either. Your cooking’s too rich,” Lucy said as she handed the rag back to Jen-Jen.

“Nothing to do with my cooking,” Jen-Jen said.

“I’m going to lie down.”

“I’ll bring you some tea.”

Lucy stretched out on her bed and stared at the ceiling fan, which did little more than move the hot air around the room. She turned her head to look out her window. From where she lay, she could see one of the birdbaths and several black birds upon its rim.

Distracted by the pain in her stomach, Lucy mistook the urge to push with gas and, before she knew it, Cassandra came out like a sigh.

Jen-Jen came in with peppermint tea and dropped the tray when she saw the pale baby resting between Lucy’s legs.

“Jen-Jen, I do believe I’ve had a baby.”

“So it would seem,” Jen-Jen said. She recovered herself, walked across the room and pulled down the window shade. Lucy fumbled to pick the baby up, but Jen-Jen took the matter into her own hands; she tied off and cut the cord, swaddled, and scooped Cassandra from the bed and handed her to Lucy.

“You’ll need to feed her, like this.”

She unbuttoned the front of Lucy’s shift and lifted out a breast, which Cassandra latched onto instinctively. While Lucy nursed the baby, Jen-Jen mopped the spilled tea and then set about finding something for a makeshift diaper. When she returned to the room Cassandra had finished nursing and Jen-Jen cleaned up both mother and child.

Clean, fed, and swaddled, Cassandra fell asleep and, while she slept, Lucy and Jen-Jen marveled at her pink skin, covered with a fine down, and the top of her head, which was crowned with a shock of red hair. What Jen-Jen and Lucy overlooked was the small, black dot several inches below Cassandra’s belly button, a dot so small it could have been mistaken for a speck of dust.

The birthmark went undetected for a long time. However, as Cassandra grew, so did the birthmark until, when she was two years old, it was big enough to be noticed.

Cassandra was fortunate that Jen-Jen was around as, when it came to raising babies, Lucy was more adept at raising turnips. Kind, but none too bright, Lucy’s parenting duties consisted of little more than that of a wet nurse. Cassandra’s daily care was left to Jen-Jen.

It was on one of those rare occasions when Lucy had to care for Cassandra on her own that she discovered the birthmark. Jen-Jen felt ill and turned in early for the evening, which left Lucy to bathe the baby. Cassandra was able to sit up on her own, so Jen-Jen was sure Lucy would be able to manage a simple bath. She had just dozed off when the shrill cries of a child startled her. Jen-Jen found Lucy in the kitchen at the enamel sink, hunched over and scrubbing Cassandra’s stomach while the child wailed.

“Miss Lucy, what in heaven’s name are you doing?”

“She has a spot on her belly,” Lucy said. “Take a look.” She moved out of the light so Jen-Jen could see. Cassandra stopped screaming but the effort of it all wore her small lungs out and she took air in great shudders.

Jen-Jen bent down to examine Cassandra’s belly. The dot was smaller than a pea, but flat, not raised like a mole, and it throbbed.

“That’s not dirt,” Jen-Jen said. She lifted Cassandra out of the sink and onto the towel that lay open on the counter.

“So it’s some kind of growth?”

“Probably just a birthmark, Miss Lucy,” Jen-Jen said. She dried Cassandra’s body and her tears, soothed lanolin onto the raw redness on her belly, dressed her and rocked Cassandra to sleep.

Motivated by a combination of fear and guilt, Lucy—who was, herself, a bit of a hypochondriac—felt the need to take Cassandra to the doctor’s the next day. The pale blue walls of the examination room did little to soothe Lucy’s nerves. Dr. Hawthorne completed the exam and wrote some notes into a chart.

“It really is nothing to worry about,” he said.

“Are you sure? I’d never noticed it before.” Lucy dropped her voice to a whisper. “I was afraid it was one of those cancerous moles.”

Dr. Hawthorne waved aside her concern. “Just a birthmark,” he said. He stroked Cassandra’s cheek. “Pity, too. She’s such a pretty child.”

Cassandra’s birthmark continued to grow imperceptibly. In the summers, all the young children, boys and girls alike, ran around shirtless. Barefoot and sun-browned, they gathered in the backyards, played baseball with branches for bats and green-hulled walnuts for balls. They swam in the creek behind old widow Gray’s house. Slender bodies glistened in the water, splashing and dunking. Games of tag extended across the backyards and, in the evenings, while the parents sat on their back porches to cool down after dinner, the children caught fireflies and stuck them in Mason jars, the mouths of the jars covered with cheesecloth and rubber bands. And at night those children set the jars on their bedroom windowsills and fell asleep as they watched the yellow glow of the fireflies’ bellies pulse.

In the midst of all this activity was Cassandra, shirtless, flat chested, and genderless as her playmates. Her red hair caught the sun, and someone with eyes half-closed could mistake her for Pan. Jen-Jen would call her in each night and wash the Kool-Aid and popsicle stains off her face, chest, and stomach. More than once Lucy forgot about the birthmark and mistook it for a tick. At night Cassandra pitied the fireflies and set them free.

When Cassandra turned ten, she and the other girls grew to be too old to go shirtless in the summers. They were still as smooth-skinned and flat-chested as the boys, but both the boys and the girls felt the gap between the sexes begin to open and declared each other to be mortal enemies. Each side chose Cassandra as ambassador; if she was aware of the widening gap, she did not show it. Boy and girl alike brought her into their confidence, used her as a messenger. Throughout the day she traipsed across yards to secret hideouts to deliver insults, live toads, dead snakes, dandelion chains, and covert confessions of undying love.

At the end of each day, Jen-Jen rarely had to call her inside, as Cassandra would be weary from crossing back and forth between enemy lines.

Cassandra sponged off her dusty feet, washed her face, and tumbled into her bed. On Saturday evenings she came in the house early. Jen-Jen would have drawn a bath of lavender water for Cassandra so she would smell sweet for Sunday. Cassandra slid into the claw foot tub until she was submerged. She listened to the muffled throb of her heart in the still water and then she allowed her body to emerge just until her face broke the surface and her hair flowed around her head like ribbons of red seaweed. She opened her eyes and stared down the length of her body. The birthmark was the same size as her navel. Cassandra floated in the tub and, as she waited for Jen-Jen to come wash her hair, she absently fingered the birthmark as if it were a worry stone.

Cassandra was twelve when the first pain clamped down on the tender space above her pubic bone. It was summer. She swayed back and forth on the tire swing, her toes making little furrows in the dust, when the cramp came so suddenly it made her gasp and clench her arms around her stomach.

Jen-Jen and Lucy were shelling peas at the kitchen table when Cassandra hurried through the back door, letting it bang shut, and rushed through the house.

“Cassandra! Don’t run in the house!” Lucy said without looking up from the pile of unshelled peas on her lap.

Jen-Jen stopped mid-pod. “Child, you all right?” she called after her.

“I’m fine,” Cassandra called over her shoulder as she went down the hall and into the bathroom where she slipped off her sundress. Cassandra knew what was coming. In the early spring, Jen-Jen had forewarned her, and she managed to fix a pad onto her panties before the first drop of blood spilled onto the white cotton.

Cassandra caught sight of herself in the full-length mirror across from her. She let her panties drop back down around her ankles and stared at her reflection. The face which stared back at her was her own, copper hair wild from the wind, ringlets heavy from the humidity. The nest of tight red hair that sat like a crown above her thighs startled her then, and she wondered how such a profusion of hair could have sprouted overnight.

Tentatively she ran her fingers through the patch and jumped a bit at the surprise of the touch of her own hand and the corresponding throb she felt under her navel. The birthmark she had grown accustomed to caught her attention. It had shifted its shape. Once oval and symmetrical, the once smooth edges had blurred and spread and the change frightened her.

She began to call out for Jen-Jen, but thought better of it. Sometimes Lucy would read an article in a women’s magazine about the warning signs of cancer, get scared, and take Cassandra to Dr. Hawthorne’s office. Most times he did a cursory check of the birthmark, assured Lucy it was fine and the visit was over in five minutes. At the last visit, a month before Cassandra turned twelve, Dr. Hawthorne let Lucy ramble on while he read over her chart and stated it was close enough for Cassandra’s school physical. He handed Cassandra a gown and left the room while she put it on. When he came back into the office, under her mother’s eyes, he had Cassandra lie down on the examination table and lift up the gown, exposing her body clad only in white cotton panties. While her mother stood by Cassandra’s side, he took her small, firm breasts, one at a time, into his hands. As Lucy prattled on about moles that bled and grew hair, he palpated Cassandra’s belly. When he was finished, she felt violated but did not know why.

Cassandra did not want to go to the doctor’s again, so she kept quiet and pulled up her panties. She watched her reflection as she lightly stroked the birthmark. Dr. Hawthorne had examined the birthmark, his face inches away, his hot breath on her goose-skinned flesh. She remembered how his finger lingered on the mark and traced it and the look in his eyes when he glanced up at her. Cassandra shuddered.

She was older, able to handle her own bodily needs, so Cassandra kept the changes of the birthmark secret. She no longer needed Jen-Jen to wash her hair or check to make sure she washed behind her ears. Lucy, at times, towel-dried Cassandra’s hair. As Cassandra grew older, Lucy tired more easily. What no one realized was that the cancer, which Lucy had always feared would growg in her daughter, was incubating within herself.

The birthmark continued to grow and change shape and Cassandra kept it hidden until she was sixteen. Cassandra stood in front of the vanity in her room, waited for her dress as she swept up her hair into a bun and pulled out a few tendrils to frame her face. A young man named Tom had taken her out every Saturday evening for two months. The thought of it made Cassandra smile. She was so pleased with herself that when Jen-Jen came into the room with the freshly ironed dress, Cassandra forgot herself, forgot the birthmark, and turned around to accept the dress from Jen-Jen’s hand.

“Sweet mother of God,” Jen-Jen said as her hand flew to her mouth. Cassandra caught the dress before it fell to the floor. Cassandra clutched the dress against her stomach, but Jen-Jen pulled the dress gently from Cassandra’s hand. Jen-Jen touched her hand to the mark; it was four fingers wide and roughly the shape of a bird.

“Please,” Cassandra, close to tears, said, “please don’t tell Momma.”

Jen-Jen kept her hand on Cassandra for several moments, whispered “sweet Jesus” over and over and softly prayed. She then stood straight and helped Cassandra into her dress. “You better finish getting ready,” Jen-Jen said as she zipped up the back of Cassandra’s dress. “Your young man will be here soon.”

Later in the evening, when Tom walked Cassandra to the porch and they sat on the swing, even the mosquitoes were polite and congregated on other porches. The fireflies signaled to each other in the trees. Cassandra giggled as Tom reminded her of the firefly hunts they’d had as kids. And after a few moments, the giggles and chuckles fell to a rich silence, so quiet Cassandra felt the gentle throb in her stomach, near her birthmark, and the gap, which had been so wide at age ten, slowly closed as Tom leaned toward her and she closed her eyes. She felt his lips brush against hers and the soft pressure of his hand as it rested on her belly.

“Damn,” Tom shouted and jerked away. Her eyes snapped open. Tom held his hand, pinched his index finger to stanch the flow of blood.

“What happened?” She leaned forward to see, but he drew his hand to his chest.

“It’s nothing. Something just bit me.”

“Please Tom, let me look at it.”

“No, it’s fine.” He got up to leave.

Cassandra laid her hand on his arm. “At least come inside for a while. I can wash and bandage it for you.”

“I’ll be fine. Goodbye, Cassandra,” he said. As he walked off the porch and down the sidewalk, Cassandra knew she would not see him again.

Upstairs in her room, Cassandra sat on her bed, clutching her pillow, and sobbed while Jen-Jen tried to comfort her. After a cup of tea and several hugs, Cassandra calmed down and Jen-Jen helped unzip the back of her dress, then left Cassandra to get ready for bed. In front of her mirror, Cassandra eased the dress off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She pull down her slip and stepped out of it. When she reached behind her back to undo her bra, Cassandra glanced at herself in the mirror and saw the dry blotch of blood smeared across the birthmark. She fell to her knees and prayed.

It came to pass that Lucy died, though she took her time about it. Each year she steadily grew wearier and more tiresome; she no longer tended her bird feeders or refilled the birdbaths in the yard. Toward the end of her life, when Lucy could no longer get out of bed, Jen-Jen had the feeders and baths hauled away.

Not long after Lucy died, it was Jen-Jen’s turn to pass on. The night before she died, Jen-Jen asked Cassandra if she would be all right. Cassandra had said yes. Satisfied, Jen-Jen died quietly in her sleep and the secret of the birthmark was buried with her.

Cassandra’s life was simple and solitary. She worked stocking shelves at the local grocery, went home in the evenings, and ate alone. On weekends she indulged herself by gardening and baking bread. She cared for her house, her yard, and her garden on her own; at night she went to bed too tired to be lonely and fell asleep with her hand resting upon her birthmark.

The summer Cassandra turned twenty-eight, she was awakened one Saturday morning by a sharp twinge in her stomach. She lay in bed a few moments, stared out her open window and planned her day. Out of habit, she absently stroked the birthmark. The birthmark had stopped growing seven years ago, not long after Jen-Jen died. It was now seven inches long and shaped like a large, black bird. Cassandra noticed it was warm to the touch, as if it generated its own body heat. She did not let this bother her; she had inherited Jen-Jen’s sensibilities instead of her mother’s. After breakfast Cassandra went into the garden. Her copper hair clasped back into a loose ponytail and a broad-brimmed straw hat on her head, Cassandra pulled weeds and inspected the tomatoes for slugs and tobacco worms. She stopped in mid-pull; the delicate hairs on the nape of her neck bristled. She was being watched. Cassandra tightened her grip on her hand spade and slowly turned around.

At first she thought it was the sun casting strange shadows through the trees. She blinked hard, removed her gloves and rubbed her eyes. It still stood there: the largest raven she had ever seen. The raven regarded her and then approached. Too stunned to move, she watched him strut. When he came within two feet of her, he stopped.

Curiosity replaced fear as Cassandra studied the bird. He kept his wings tucked tight against his body and cocked his head from side to side. The sunlight struck his feathers and they shimmered with an iridescent purple-blue sheen. Without warning, the raven unfolded his wings and beat the air until he was lifted from the ground. Cassandra covered her face with her arms and braced herself. When nothing happened, she slowly dropped her arms. At first she believed he had flown away and she searched the sky, but she found him perched on a branch in a nearby tree. Irritated, Cassandra threw her hand spade at him and missed. He responded with a harsh caw. Her initial fear returned and she rushed into the house, locking the door behind her.

Throughout the day, Cassandra peered out the window at the raven in the tree. She busied herself around the house, thinking of her mother and the many bird feeders that once filled the trees.

“Poor thing may be hungry,” she said to no one. “Probably one of the old birds Momma used to feed.” She set out some torn bits of brown bread and a ceramic bowl of water on the front porch. The raven didn’t move all day. At night the darkness hid him and Cassandra was sure he’d flown away. She went to sweep the bread off the porch, but only the bowl, empty, remained.

When she went to bed that night, she began to undress as she always did, but this evening she pulled the curtains closed before she disrobed. She felt foolish once she crawled into bed, leaned across the nightstand, and switched off her light. The moon was full and bright. Outside her window, however, stood the silhouette of a bird.

Sunday morning was bright and the weather fair, but the brightness of the morning didn’t cheer Cassandra. Normally content in her solitude, she instead felt an unusual restlessness and the need to be out of the house, to be around people. Cassandra dressed and was soon out the door. The raven was perched on the front porch swing and Cassandra froze for a moment. She took small, tentative steps until she passed him. He hopped off and followed her down the sidewalk at a distance. Cassandra turned around.

“Shoo!” she scolded. The raven stopped, blinked at her, and continued to follow. She decided to ignore him and walked several blocks to the diner. At the diner she went inside, bought a paper, ordered coffee and toast, and went to a booth. A few familiar faces politely smiled or waved at her, which she returned. The waitress brought her order and Cassandra sipped her coffee and read. She was mid-way through the Sunday paper when the waitress came by to refill her coffee cup.

“Next time, leave your birds at home,” the waitress said. Cassandra looked to where the waitress pointed. A flock of ravens milled about on the sidewalk.

“Those aren’t my birds.”

“Didn’t that big one follow you here?”

“Yes,” Cassandra said, “but he’s not mine.”

“Whatever,” the waitress said. She swiped at a coffee ring with a damp cloth, but when she left, Cassandra noticed the coffee ring remained.

Cassandra left a tip on the table. As she scooted out of the booth and made her way to the door, she felt the other customers watch her. Her first, only, and last boyfriend, Tom, sat at the counter and when Cassandra left the diner, he showed the waitress his finger, still scarred.

Outside the diner, the ravens moved from the door to make room for Cassandra. The largest one jumped and landed lightly on her shoulder. Cassandra cringed, but he wasn’t as heavy as his size suggested. His presence was actually pleasant, like a friend’s hand resting on her shoulder. The other ravens parted as she moved down the sidewalk, then followed behind her in a massive black wave.

The ravens stayed. They followed her to work, roosted in nearby trees until she clocked out and then solemnly followed her as she walked home, the large one riding on her shoulder. At home she cared for the birds, fed them dried corn and brown bread. After a while, the large one was permitted inside where he ate at the table with her and at night slept perched at the foot of her bed.

The dreams started innocently enough—dreams of childhood, of her mother, and Jen-Jen. Cassandra began to dream of Tom, of the night he had kissed her. The reel played in her mind like a film; the dream began to shift and change each night. In some versions, a black bird clawed its way out of her stomach, attacked Tom, and ate his eyes. Other times Tom changed into a large bird, sat on her lap, his body pressed against her and his huge beak shoved down her throat until she choked. Cassandra would wake up, gasping for air, half a scream in her mouth as the raven watched her from his perch.

This is what led her to the office of Dr. Durher, the local psychiatrist. She entered the front and was greeted by the receptionist, who confirmed Cassandra’s appointment, handed her forms clipped to a clipboard, and directed her to take a seat. The receptionist glanced out the front plate glass windows and noticed the flock of ravens milling about on the sidewalk.

Cassandra filled out the forms, handed the packet back to the receptionist and sat back down to wait. The late afternoon sun filtered through the windows, warming the waiting room that was decorated in shades of sage green, peach, and mauve. Faint strains of classical music floated in the air and, just as Cassandra felt herself drift off to sleep, she was awakened by someone calling her name.

“Cassandra, would you follow me please?” Dr. Durher said. She had expected Dr. Durher to be a small, wiry man with gray thinning hair and a neat, trimmed beard and that he would wear a turtleneck under a sports coat. He was, in reality, not much older that Cassandra herself. His hair was sandy, not gray, and there was no beard. As he reached across to take the file the receptionist handed to him, Cassandra noticed the fine blonde hairs on his arm. She followed him to a small, stuffy office crowded with bookshelves, and exotic tribal masks on the white walls. The blinds were drawn to shade the room from the afternoon sun. The lamp on his desk was lit.

“Please, make yourself comfortable.” He pointed to a narrow couch as he sat down on a warm sienna brown leather chair. As Cassandra reclined on the couch, Dr. Durher studied her chart, asked her background information, requesting clarification at times. While Cassandra spoke, he scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad. He reopened her chart, rereading for several moments before he closed the folder and asked, “What brings you here today?”

“I keep having bad dreams, every night. They’re getting worse and I’m afraid to fall asleep,” she said.

“Since the death of your mother and godmother, has anything traumatic or unusual happened?”

“Well, there is this flock of ravens following me lately.”

“You’ve been hallucinating birds, Cassandra?”

“No. There really are ravens following me. Look for yourself,” she said.

Dr. Durher got out of his chair, went to the window and looked out. Black birds lined the telephone wires but this was nothing out of the ordinary, especially so late in the summer. He dropped the blind and went back to his seat.

“I’ll write you a prescription for something to help you sleep. I don’t believe we need to try anything stronger as of yet. There are some things to consider, though, Cassandra,” he said.

As he began to speak about dreams and their symbolic meanings, Cassandra studied his jaw line, the cleft of his chin and how his face was covered in a fine shadow of blonde stubble. He continued on about Freud and Jung and soon she no longer heard him. The moving of his lips mesmerized her and when she thought of how his lips might feel against her own, with the light scrape of stubble against her cheek, she felt a throb deep in her stomach, as if her heart had dropped and landed there.

The screams of the receptionist shattered her reverie. Dr. Durher hurried out of the room with Cassandra close behind him. In the waiting room, three ravens had broken through the window. They flew about wildly, crashing into walls and doors. Outside, the other ravens flew at any passerby who attempted to come near. While the receptionist and Dr. Durher tried to get the birds out of the building, Cassandra left. She ran home so fast that the birds had to fly to keep up with her.

In the early hours before the dawn, when the first shot woke her up, Cassandra thought it was another dream. The shouts of men mingled with the coarse caws of birds and she quickly realized it was not a dream. From her bedroom window, she watched the fight between the townsmen and the ravens; the shouts changed to screams as the ravens attacked the men, gouging their eyes and clawing the soft tissue of their faces. The large raven flew against the windowpane, ramming his heavy body into it, again and again, as Cassandra struggled to stop him. When the glass finally shattered and he flew out into the fray, Cassandra sank onto the bed and held her head in her bleeding hands.

The last injured man stumbled out of her yard and down the sidewalk as the daylight crept over the horizon. Cassandra pulled on her robe, tied the belt loosely around her waist and went outside barefoot, her face streaked with dried blood and tears. Black and bloodied bodies littered the yard. All day and into the night she buried the ravens’ broken bodies in the fallow plot beside her garden. She searched for the large raven among the dead, but he wasn’t there. When the last cold body was planted into the ground Cassandra fell to her knees and wailed until she passed out, face down, from exhaustion.

Cassandra awoke, yet was sure she was still in a dream. Everything around her was crimson. She rolled over onto her back; the sun was high and hot and the stark blue sky reminded her she was outside. She sat up, slowly stood and rubbed her eyes.

A field of poppies had blossomed around her. She marveled how such a thing could happen overnight. Cassandra pinched the tender skin on the inside of her arm and felt pain; she was awake, standing in her bathrobe in an ocean of crimson poppies.

Cassandra felt the birthmark throb and the delicate hairs on the nape of her neck tingle. She turned and saw a dark figure in the distance. At first she thought it was the raven, but as the figure drew closer, she saw it was a man. A breeze stirred and his black silk clothes gently fluttered as he approached.

He stopped two feet in front of her. His skin was the golden glow of warm honey. The sunlight shone on his glossy black hair, which shimmered with an iridescent sheen.

“Who are you?” Cassandra asked.

He came nearer and laid his hand upon her shoulder.

“I’m the Raven King,” he said.

Cassandra reached out, unbuttoned the front of his shirt, and opened it. She traced his black birthmark lightly with her fingers. With one hand, he untied the belt of her robe and she let it fall among the poppies.

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