Dancing with the Crow
The nights are long and cold in Calgary, Alberta especially during the month of January. Tonight, snow and wind mix together in a gale of chilliness. Low grey clouds cover any light that could shine from the sky. Only the streetlights keep everything illuminated but that isn’t enough to even see across the street. That’s how it moves. Through the shadows and the fog. No human can see it until it’s too late.
Time after time it watches the C-train move from one side of the downtown core to the other. It watches every single human that gets on and off on the platform. There are many different kinds of people from those dressed in fancy suits coming out of an office to raggedly dirty humans coming out off of the street. It doesn’t matter who they are because as soon as that human is alone, that is when it feeds on them. That warm blood flowing through their veins calls like the smell of a great feast that is just about to be presented. It’s only a matter of time when it feeds again.
Layla Bianchi sits in the back room with other dancers like her getting her make-up on. The golden eye shadow brings out her rich brown eyes and the honey-tanned skin in a beautiful exotic feel. She pulls her elastic to let her long loose-curled dark brown hair to fall past her shoulders and rain down her back to give her a glamorous allure.
The sticky gemstones on her forehead are a nice touch. It takes her back to her teens when she strived to be a ballet dancer. She remembers how she pirouettes on the stage towards her dance partner in, “Alberta Ballet’s: The Nutcracker.” The feel of the spin and the way the air whipped in her face made her feel so free. Like there is nothing else in the world. She reaches for the other dancer and he lifts her up as they preform the pas de deux together. He starts spinning her around but in one crushing second, he drops her on her ankle and she lands on her head. When she awoke, she was in a hospital bed with her left ankle bandaged up and the news that she will never dance ballet again. She tears up as she gets out of that memory and reaches down to touch that old scar on her heel.
“Layla!” Says another dancer named Melanie, through the curtain. “We’re on!”
Layla smiles, dabs her eyes, and stands up. She takes one last look at her red belly-dancing outfit with its colorful beads, coins, and reflective sequins. She is pleased to see how magnificent and sexy it looks.
Layla follows Melanie out of the backroom and into the restaurant. They are introduced by Aki Kazan the owner of Trio restaurant. The beautiful mysterious music of the sitar sounds out from the speakers. The three of them spin into the center of the room and begin their tantalizing dance. The smell of spices and sheesha smoke give the perfect ambience to complement their dancing. Their fluid movements and careful steps have all eyes on them. The people watch them intently while eating various foods like the lentil soup which is Layla’s favorite.
The lentil soup has a whole bunch of beans that are blended with carrots, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It sounds simple but it is mixed with spices from far off lands that many only dream of seeing. It starts with the beautiful crunch of the crackers, soft and smooth textures roaming on the tongue, and finishes with the taste of pure grinded pepper.
Once the percussions sound over the music, the three of them start moving their heads side to side in super straight lines while the rest of their body remains still. With a sudden beat, the dancers pop their hips forward and bring their arms over their heads. The shoulder circles they do turn into snake arms as they turn a complete 360-degree spin. They walk popping their hips as they change their positions. Their arms spread out in a T-shape as they move their chests in a box form. A long shimmy starts as they move their shoulders forward and back in swift motions. Belly circles take over in their act both vertically and horizontally. A sharp turn to the side has the dancers take four steps forward and four steps back, being finished with the grapevine steps. The steps look like braids going left to right, forwards and backwards.
When the three dancers bow down towards the center of their dancing circle, the restaurant goes dark. The lights turn back on with the three dancers standing tall, smiling, and walking off to the backroom. A round of applause fills the room as they leave.
Layla sighs as she tries to get comfortable in her seat as the C-train runs again after opening its doors for the next transit riders. She finds herself dozing in and out as the train rolls on. When her eyes open, she sees various people on their phones or reading books. Nothing extraordinary, just something she sees every time a new person boards on the train. When she has one of her catnaps, she remembers her mother’s words to her.
“Riding the train at night is dangerous. Be aware!”
It’s an on-going argument that she has with her mother even though they both know that it is the cheapest and easiest way to get around the city. She doesn’t regret it. Layla promised her mother that she will keep her cross necklace with her and the whistle she uses for emergencies. It’s quiet on the train right now as there aren’t a lot of people, so she feels very safe. Safe enough to close her eyes a little longer.
“Chinook station.” Says the robotic female voice on the intercom.
Her eyes flutter open. In her dreamy haze she sees a dark silhouette of a man sitting a few feet to her left. She repeatedly blinks her eyes until she can see clearly. When she looks again, there is no one sitting there after all. Layla thinks this is odd but she lets it go. She must have been having some kind of weird dream.
The voice on the train announces, “Heritage station.”
This is her stop. She stands up off her seat and realizes that she is the only one left on the train. This normally wouldn’t bother her but something’s wrong. A chill goes up her spine, as she takes one last look around the compartment. Layla can’t shake the feeling that she is being watched. Clearly no one is there but that doesn’t stop her from quickly getting off the train and not looking back.
As soon as she is off the train, a shadow crawls down from it’s hiding place on the ceiling. It manifests itself into a tall man with shoulder length black hair, stone grey eyes, and a sinister expression on his face. He watches the young woman rush off the platform. Angered that he didn’t catch her in time, he realizes that he will have to get the next human. There will be another night when he’ll catch her and he looks forward to it.
The next morning, Layla works behind the counter of her mother’s flower shop. It is called “First Class Flowers” and for good reason. Layla’s mother, Adia is a genius when it comes to making floral arrangements. Each bouquet is not only beautiful but it is special and never the same. Layla is in awe each time her mother brings out her next creation. Just these bursts of color in one tiny vase. It’s like a firework tableau that you get to hold in your hands.
While Adia makes the arrangement’s, Layla is in charge of the customers. Her mother tells her that she has the gift of persuasion and allurement. She knows how to talk customers and show them exactly what they need. As Layla sips on her chai tea, Adia walks in with a huge birthday bouquet full of red Gerber daisies, green hydrangea , and yellow tiger lilies.
“Well Mom, you did it again.” Layla says admiring the bouquet. “You should teach classes on this.”
Aida smiles at her daughter and says archly. “I will when you start teaching dance classes.”
Although she knows it’s a joke, Layla’s face falls. “Mom, we have already talked about this.”
“Oh I know sweetie.” Aida says as she holds her daughter’s face gently in her hands. “I know how much it means for you to dance and how you feel so free doing it. I would never want to take that away from you. It’s just...” Her mother pauses, lets go of her face, and looks down to the ground. “You on the train at night…”
When her mother puts her hands on her daughter’s shoulders, Layla adds. “I know Mom. I don’t want to worry you and maybe it is selfish but I feel like dancing is just for me. I don’t know if or how I can share that.”
“I know. All in God’s good time.” Aida presses a kiss on her daughters forehead and smiles. “Now! No more of this. Call Peter and have him drop this off to the Hillman’s house.”
“Done.” Layla says smiling again and picks up her cellphone to call their delivery driver.
In minutes, Peter the delivery driver takes the flowers for delivery and a family of new customers enter the shop. Layla smiles at them and walks towards them with a confident grace. The way that the family looks at her with admiration tells her that she has already got them.
“Good morning.” She says in a friendly manner. “What can I help you folks with today?”
As they smile at her, the father tells her, “We are looking for blue roses. It’s to celebrate my mother’s birthday. We are going to visit her at the assisted living facility.”
The father suddenly looks sullen and the woman next to him which Layla assumes is his wife and the mother of the children, speaks up, “You see her birthday was last week and we couldn’t see her because of the outbreak at the home.”
“Well if that is the case, let me show you these.” Layla leads them into the small refrigerator containing an assortment of flowers and some stylish bouquets that are already made. Layla picks up the bouquet with pink carnations and little white droplet flowers on the outside of it. “Now these will surely show your mother how much you love her and how she’s in your heart.” Layla looks at the two little girls and points to the little white flowers in the bouquet. “Did you know that these flowers are called snowdrops and they are one of the rare flowers that grow in January?”
“Wow!” The girls stare at the bouquet in wonder. “How do you know?”
“My Mommy told me that.” Layla says and gives the bouquet to the mother.
“Let’s get this one! Daddy lets get this one!” The two little girls jump joyously pointing at the bouquet.
“Fine, fine.” The father chuckles as he pulls out his credit card.
Layla smiles at the family as she walks behind the counter to ring up the sale. It looks like her superpowers have helped her out once again. Layla wraps up the little bouquet and hands it to the family. She can see by their smiling faces that her gift has brought happiness once again just like all the people at the Trio Restaurant when she dances.
When the family leaves, Layla suddenly remembers her mother’s warning that her gift could one day put her in danger. So far it has been just smiling faces at the flower shop and great tips at the restaurant. What danger could it possibly bring?
Another Friday night hits and Layla is getting ready for the next show along with her partners. With her blue costume on, she sits on the stool in front of the mirror. They are all huddling together and putting on their make-up, sharing that one large mirror.
“Layla!” Melanie looks down her from the top left side of the mirror at Layla’s reflection. “Why is it that you got the stool again?”
“Because she called tails and you didn’t.” Suzy says to her directly.
Layla rolls her eyes as she puts on her lipstick. “You can have it next week.”
“With what’s going on right now? I don’t know.” Suzy says suddenly looking worried as she puts on her mascara.
“What makes you say that Suzy?” Layla asks her looking at her reflection.
“You don’t know?” Melanie says looking down directly at Layla. Layla looks up at her and shakes her head no.
“One person was killed by the Fish Creek train station and another was killed at the Sunridge train station.” Layla’s brown eyes go wide in shock while Melanie continues. “That isn’t the weird part.”
“What’s the weird part?” Layla asks.
“The weird part is they were drained of all their blood. It is nowhere to be found.” Suzy continues the story.
“Oh my god!” Layla says a little freaked out.
As the two dancers nod, the owner Aki pokes his head in and asks. “You ladies ready?”
They all nod and walk to the curtain. Layla admits to herself that this news scares her but Suzy and Melanie are notorious for exaggerating the real story. Besides she has her whistle and cross with her. She puts that scary story out of her mind and focuses on what she is going to do during their dance.
As soon as Aki announces them, they take the floor and start their show. The three of them start by spinning in a circle while making their sashes twirl around with them. When it is Layla’s turn to move to the center of the circle, she sees a tall, dark, mysterious stranger who is watching her intensely. He isn’t handsome but there is something attractive about him. Almost hypnotic. His dark eyes pierce her soul like he knows exactly what her desires are. Suddenly, she feels like she is dancing just for him as she does a shimmy back bend, not taking her eyes off of him. She wonders if anyone else notices him.
After the show, the three dancers are sitting in the private room waiting for their free tapas for a brilliant night done. They were popular tonight and Aki wants to thank them via tapas. The dancers didn’t mind staying for that. When Aki arrives, he brings them a silver tray with three different items. The first one is deep-fried dill pickles with ranch sauce in a little cup. Beside it is a tabbouleh salad with the greenest parsley, fresh tomatoes, pungent onions and garlic all mixed together with lemon juice. And last but not least, the trio cheese dip with pita bread on the side. All of these goodies melt in your mouth which is a perfect way to enjoy a night at a restaurant.
“Thanks Mister Kazan.” Layla says. “These look great.”
“Your welcome. You ladies brought in another full house. So, thank you.” He says and turns away but looks back at them. “Oh! And feel free to come talk with the customers. They are raving about you ladies.”
The three of them eat their appetizers with delight. All these items taste as good as they look. The dancers find themselves relaxing while the hot pickles, fresh salad, and savory cheese dip fill their bellies.
“Well.” Melanie says brushing her hands and stands up. “Let’s meet some of the customers.”
Suzy and Layla nod as they stand up and walk into the restaurant. Even though she didn’t mention him to her partners, Layla starts looking for the man that she saw in the audience. He is nowhere to be seen. She walks around the restaurant looking for him, not knowing what she is going to say or do. Suddenly, a little girl wraps her arms around her waist and surprises her.
“Gita!” Says the Indian woman in green trying to take her daughters’ hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s quite alright. I think I needed a hug today.” Layla says smiling to the mother and kneeling to face the starry-eyed little girl in front of her. “Do you like dancing sweetie?”
The little girl smiles and nods at her. “What dance classes do you take?”
As little Gita answers, Layla eyes randomly dart around to see the man. Maybe he went to the bathroom. After looking around for a few moments, Layla realizes that the man must have left. She doesn’t know what it is about him but he both fascinates and frightens her. Nevertheless, she tries to put it out of her mind while she talks to Gita and other customers for the rest of the night.
On the C-train, Layla as usual gets more and more sleepy as she rides. At the 4th street train station, Layla’s eyes go wide in shock as she hears a loud SMASH of glass the nearly shakes the whole train. She sees the young train conductor being held by his neck and the assailant is hidden. She watches as the man’s eyes roll to the back of his head and blood slowly dribbles out of his mouth. She is witnessing a murder. She lowers herself to the ground, hoping that the murderer won’t see her. Layla shakes, struggling to get her phone out to call 911. When she looks out the window again, she sees the assailant with his face pressed up against the victim’s neck. She doesn’t know what he is doing but that doesn’t stop her from dialing.
“911 what is your emergency?” Says the feminine voice on the other line.
Still shaking, Layla frantically whispers. “Please help, I’m at the 4th street train station and there is a man killing another man.”
Tears start to stream down her cheeks as she hears the 911 dispatcher speak. “Alright, I will send emergency services down there immediately. Can you tell me your name and if you are safe.”
Layla can’t speak as she watches this man lick the blood off of the mans lips like it is pure ecstasy. A series of hellos sound from her phone but she can’t bring herself to say anything after seeing this hideous sight. Suddenly, this man looks right at her and she recognizes him. It is the man she saw in the restaurant. She also realizes that she has seen him on the train a week ago when she was in that dreamy haze. She is more than sure of this. And now he has seen her.
She drops her phone as he walks towards the train doors. The man strides towards the doors and pulls them open with inhuman strength. More tears rush down her face as she freezes on the spot. He coldly walks towards her with each step sounding like the ticks of a clock telling her that she is about to die. When he stands beside her, she tries to bring her whistle to her lips and blow. Instead, he picks her up from her coat and feels him lift her right off her seat.
“You are the one.” He says coldly to her. “I’m not surprised with your beauty, the sensual way you dance, the way your eyes pierce into even the most willful of humans.”
“I don’t know what your talking about.” Layla whimpers.
“Don’t play with me. You know of your unique skills.” He says smugly. “I have been watching you for weeks. You will be a valuable member in the Order of the Crow. Maybe even a great queen.”
Layla watches as his steel grey eyes turn blood red and sharp fangs grow out of his mouth. Still whimpering, Layla takes her backpack and hits him hard in the face. She slams onto the ground, grabs her backpack, and tries to crawl towards the broken in train door. With a snarl from the man, he recovers and strides towards Layla.
While he grabs the hood of her parka, she rummages through her bag to find anything she can use as a weapon. With out thinking she grabs her compact mirror, intending to throw it at him. When she turns it towards him, he lets go of her parka and shrieks like the mirror hurts him. He backs away covering his face and Layla uses this to stand up. She walks backwards trying to cover her one ear from his inhuman screaming which sounds like a bat being tortured. Suddenly, she hears the crack of her mirror. When she turns it around slightly just to look at it, Layla sees it broken and the angry red-eyed man starts walking towards her again. Blood runs from his eyes and his fingers get longer before turning into claws. He looks more vicious than ever.
Throwing the mirror on the ground, she tries to find something else in her bag to use. She grabs the mixed nuts and seed snack that she keeps for an energy boost. Not knowing what else to do, Layla broke the bag and throws the contents at him. The man’s mouth suddenly twitches as he sees these seeds scatter. An odd compulsion takes over him and Layla watches him crawling on the ground to pick each one up. Although confused by this, Layla doesn’t question this. She just turns and runs out of the train as fast as she possibly can.
As soon as she comes to the street, the police arrive with their sirens blazing and lights blaring. There are at least twenty of them rushing towards the train even as she continues to run away. One of the men catch her and looks at her.
“Ma’am are you alright?!” He asks with concern.
“He’s in the train! He’s in the train!” Layla screams pointing towards the train.
“Okay! Go to the church across the street. We’ll handle this.” He assures her calmly.
Layla does what the police officer says and jets it to the church.
Layla bursts into the church, slams the doors closed, and collapses on the floor. The priest turns around and sees the distressed woman huffing and puffing on the floor. He runs to her, kneels down to help her up and get her to a bench. Layla not having the strength to walk is grateful to have his arms around her. She looks to the priest and swears that she sees the most beautiful man she has ever laid eyes on. His startling blue eyes, fair wavy hair, chiselled face, and strong muscled body remind her of a movie star.
“Are you alright my child?” He says caringly to her.
“I was attacked on the train.” She says breathlessly. “A man with fangs…a…” She trails off, unable to even say it because it is impossible.
“What’s your name? Mine is Father Derrick Sullivan.” He says trying to help her feel safe.
“I’m Layla Bianchi.” She replies but still shaking a little.
“Layla, would you like some coffee or tea?” He says trying to look her in the eye. “I promise you that you are safe now.”
Layla only nods in response. He goes and moves to the back of the room and gets a tea that was made by one of his closest friends. It is a mixture of camomile, peppermint, and lavender that she calls “Sweet Dreams.” He knows it will put her back in a good state of mind. He puts it in a paper cup and brings it over to her.
“Here you go.” Father Sullivan says as he sits beside her. “Now Layla. Can you tell me what happened? I promise there will be no judgement on whatever you say.”
Layla sips the tea and tells him everything. How she saw this man, kill and drink the blood of another man. When he attacked her, he looked so demonic and had strength that no person should have. She never had thought that she would see something so frightening in real life. She has the last sip of her tea and hands the cup back to Father Sullivan.
“Would you like another?” He asks and she nods her head. He puts a gentle hand on her shoulder and says. “You have had a horrible night. I do believe that you were face to face with something very evil. If you ever want to talk about it. I’m also a physiatrist who can help. It won’t cost you anything.”
Layla gives him a little smile and says. “I’ll think about it.”
Two police officers walk into the church and walk over to the two of them. The dark-haired male police officer starts talking.
“We found the victim but not the perp. Do you feel well enough to come to the station and give a statement?”
“Can’t I just go home? I don’t want to be out here anymore.” Layla tearfully pleads.
The second police officer who is a woman, nods understandably. “Absolutely. When you’re feeling better, can we call on you again?”
Layla nods and accepts the business card that the lady police officer gives her. Father Sullivan stands up and goes towards the police officers.
“She has had a terrible shock. I think it might be best if we got her home.” He says. “I have contacted an uber to come and pick her up.” The Father pauses and turns to look at Layla. “The church will pay for it. I want to make sure that she is safe and sound.”
Layla looks gratefully at the priest and gives him a small tear-stained smile. He goes towards her and takes her hand that is reaching for him. He kneels down to face her and gives her a kindly smile.
“Try not to worry. These things work out in the end.” Father Sullivan reassures her. Layla feels the sincerity along with the warmth radiating from him. He has given her faith that this horrible night is finally over. A buzz from the priest’s phone tells him that the uber has arrived. “Your ride is here Layla. Take care.”
“We’ll walk you out.” Says the male police officer. Layla stands up and follows the officers out of the church. Before they walk out of the door, Layla turns towards the priest and says. “Thank you, Father Sullivan. For everything.”
He smiles and nods at her. As he watches her leave, Father Sullivan considers Layla Bianchi’s situation. She is telling the truth and if there is what he thinks there is in Calgary, then he is going to have to bring in the big guns. He picks up his cellphone and calls his associate/friend. The phone rings at least three times before he is greeted by the feminine voice on the other side of the line.
“Hi Mina.” Father Sullivan says, “We are needed.”
Special Thanks to:
Trio Restaurant: For their delicious foods and lovely service. 1504 16 Ave SW, Calgary, AB T3C 0Z8, https://www.triocafe.ca/
Son of the Pharaoh: For the beautiful belly-dancing costumes. Eau Claire Market - 200 Barclay Parade SW #202, Calgary, AB T2P 4R5 https://sonofthepharaoh.com/
Calgary Transit : For the easy riding around the city. https://www.calgarytransit.com/
Central United Church: For being there and lovely. 131 7 Ave SW, Calgary, AB T2P 0W5 http://centralchurch.ca/
First Class Flowers: For their beautiful bouquets and flowers. 8251 Elbow Dr SW, Calgary, AB T2V 1K6. https://www.firstclassflowerscalgary.com/