The Platinum Raven (novella) by Rohan Quine
The Platinum Raven (novella)
by Rohan Quine
The Platinum Raven by Rohan Quine is a triple convulsion whereby our heroine Raven escalates herself into the Chocolate Raven and then the Platinum Raven, from London to Dubai to the tower in the hills in the desert—then back down again, forever changed.
For some great reviews of The Platinum Raven, click here.
For a synopsis of The Platinum Raven, click here.
First taster of The Platinum Raven, from chapter 6 “Platinum hair on black silk”
[…] Sipping the wine, she leans on the rail and looks downwards a third of a mile, to where the lights around the Mall twitch and flicker in the sticky air. A car-horn peeps thin and yellow for a second, like a pin sticking out from the city’s endless thick electric pincushion night-roar.
Since her first visit here yesterday, it has come to seem to her that life is somehow mostly night. Alone in this eyry, she feels she is dealing now in night alone—the bright black night in front of her, cut with tracks of energy and pricked with coloured points of light. That’s fine; she likes the night.
Across the city, towers shine—some huge and beautiful, but none as huge or beautiful as this one that she’s in. Some bristle close to her; other ones rear up far away, colossal and alone, hard-wired to the same grid of lights. No one could know the whole city well, she reflects: many months might be spent, trekking all through its blocks, to the sad far marches on the edges of the desert.
She refills her glass, taps her cigarette ash off, draws in, exhales, and sees the smoke coil and hang and drift away to where the floodlights catch it from below.
She thinks back perhaps twenty minutes, maybe half an hour, to the extraordinary voltage and transcendence she achieved, through forces of creation she’d not known she possessed, when her mouth went so terrifyingly into first an O shape and then a vertical slot-shape with rounded ends, and she birthed that mad-faced tower on the mountains. And there rises in her now a feeling rather like a rich blast of organ chords across the sky in harmonies that hold aloft a woman’s song whose power and serenity and longing span the world. She knows that a second deployment of these new-found powers of hers will be occurring here, in just a moment or three—and she knows that this time the experience will be much calmer and gentler for her than that first time was.
So, she just starts doing it—and yes, it is indeed calmer and gentler, but nonetheless she feels it as electrically powerful, unnerving and excessive. Her hands grip the railing, as the voltage unfurls from her face and streams sideways, out across the desert to the mountain range. She shouldn’t have this much power. It’s too dangerous, in terms of what she might do with it down there in everyday life, instead of up here now—or whom she might turn it upon.
It’s time to look again, where she’s carefully not been looking.
Her attention shoots ahead, across the burn of the city and the blackness of the desert, to the canyon with the tiny glow of yellow-orange light…
And perched on the rock-slopes, just on a level with her, there is the mad-faced building she erected—still there, obediently waiting for her now. The folly made of iron, with the face of a mad tower: two round windows just beneath the turret, staring back at her…
So now what? she wonders. And while she does so, they hatch, right there in real time, tiny in the distant tower: fuzzy for a moment, till the auto-focus kicks in, but growing into sharpness as they swell to human size.
It’s a bar scene, she sees. Standing at the far left end of the bar is a glamorous young woman, facing right and thus in profile from this point of view. Her face is half-obscured by the long platinum-blonde hair falling dead-straight and splashing softly off her shoulder where it burns dead white against smooth black silk, like a burnt-out exposure in a photographic print, or a photographic negative of raven-coloured hair. She half-turns her head in this direction, and the Chocolate Raven blinks to see the face is like her own face. So similar is the woman’s build to her own, moreover, and so cleanly dramatic and unique is the opposition of her hair colour to the Chocolate Raven’s own dark brunette version of the same style, that she thinks of the woman straightaway as the Platinum Raven.
The barman hands her a wad of banknotes, which she stows about herself with speed and discretion. Then she stands contemplating the tableau of people on view in the mirror mounted along the entire length of the bar’s back wall above the bottles on the top shelf, looking in particular at the man at the far right-hand end of the bar. He is blond and attractive, his face alive with self-contained perceptiveness. The wide-set fluidity of humour in his eyes makes her think of Rutger Hauer in the desert: well-equipped, through ready charm, to hitch a lift.
She imagines this man’s viewpoint on this same wide mirror tableau: standing again at the left side of the tableau (but in only half-profile this time) will be a glamorous young woman facing right, her long platinum-blonde hair falling dead-straight and splashing softly off her shoulder, burning white against the smooth black silk of her top. This is the Platinum Raven herself, of course, though the blond man won’t know her name yet. She half-turns her head in the blond man’s direction, through real space along the bar; and for him, her hair in the tableau in the mirror must therefore be splashing a little differently now upon the black silk of her shoulder, though of course she herself can no longer verify this directly in the mirror.
And on her right will be a young Armenian man of maybe twenty-one, of a dark and delicate beauty in keeping with the silver scorpion pendant hanging at his neck, and whose glass she clinks with her own.
Without warning the Platinum Raven then turns her head further round, in slow-motion, to face this direction, as if she can see though the fourth wall of the bar-room and across the desert, to where the city of Dubai spreads out impaled by the Burj Khalifa’s spike.
The Platinum Raven’s eyes spend a few moments easing with infinitesimal precision up and down this building’s 30 Tiers—then they pinpoint the Chocolate Raven’s little i-shaped dot where it leans at the rail of Level 152, holding up a glass of red that’s lit from within by the dusk-light passing through it here on the roof of Tier 14.
The platinum-lashed eyes stop their hunt. They focus more; and now they stare straight across, cutting clear and cool through the miles of desert in between, directly to their chocolate-lashed double’s own eyes.
On the wet smooth curves of the Platinum Raven’s eyes sits an identical pair of images of the Chocolate Raven herself, ever so tiny and ever so perfect: crouching in the glare of a parked car’s headlights, just beyond the power-station complex on the desert coast, over-exposed in a light that burns her face to white, moaning in pleasure there impaled on a man in shadow, crouching with her luscious straight chocolate-coloured hair across her face, until she raises her head and the hair slides away… And now her own devastating, desert-eyed perfection meets the Chocolate Raven’s gaze full on, electrifying—animal, expressionless, an icon of ecstasy and chocolate and sweat in wailing silence in the headlights, as dust floats around her through the siren-song behind the air.
The Chocolate Raven’s glance zooms back out again, to re-embrace the bar scene in the tower once more, where beside the Platinum Raven is the other one: the Armenian boy dressed in black, a Scorpio pendant at his neck. No smile there at all, too much tension and exquisiteness and fierce vulnerability.
For him it wasn’t easy, no one-two-three. But here he is—just as if in some club, deep in a city. A sudden smile leaks through, a flush of light across his face, for an instant. Then once again, no smile. Fem in black, for this is realness. So waltz darling, deep in vogue.
—There he is, right now.
Perfection, for all time…
The Chocolate Raven thinks of him as Scorpio, murmuring the name as she watches him, unblinking so as not to miss a split-second’s portion of this advent of an unpredicted figure whom she nonetheless feels that she’s known all her life.
He snorts a line of cocaine from the bar’s immaculate shiny top, then he turns his dainty head to one side and slightly up, to hear the Platinum Raven murmur something in his ear. And only now does the Platinum Raven release the Chocolate Raven’s gaze and turn away, back towards the mirrored bar tableau and her own world, there in the mad-faced tower on the rock-slopes.
Second taster of The Platinum Raven, from chapter 7 “Purple and red and yellow and … on fire”
[…] And thirdly came the flowering of the tower, where the lack of any surrounding competition helped it become the clearest channel for all that was suppressed throughout the region. There on its isolated hillside outside any city limits, this place became the epitome of such urban sophistication and sybaritic urbanity as to feel quite vertiginous, certainly for anyone stepping into it for the first time, but even to many of the assorted international party monsters who already made regular pilgrimages from New York, London, Los Angeles, Shanghai and European capitals, in search of the most fantastical and transcendent confluence of subcultural energy anywhere in the world. For here was where white rabbits not only conquered telephone cubicles, but made those cubicles scream and bleed, for the damage they’d inflicted on a million Ravens globally.
Sometimes the whirl of flesh and lights and hazy sound seemed to slow for a moment to a still frame, and eyes of experience would then be caught on camera, in a face amid the swirl—a face you’d half-recognise from before, when you’d seen it on a big screen perhaps, or in a memory seen through champagne upon a terrace under heat-lamps, while the music span forever on that summer night before—wide eyes, prominent and grey, camera-frozen in a face soaked in way too much experience.
At this point the fabulousness of the denizens grew so indefatigable as to become ferocious. The dance-floor was a cat-walk, under little fluffy clouds where the skies went on forever and the clouds would catch the colours—purple and red and yellow and … on fire. And every night the anorexic models floated through, beautifully drugged-out and weak and untouchable, forever down the runways of their airport lanes, each expressionless in damage through the night-lit clouds, with their make-up flashing soft in the lights, like perfection, clad in shreds of lightest silk that concealed the needle-marks.
The clientele’s long-standing ambiguity of male and female began to become more concentrated, as the rest began to diminish by slow degrees, leaving an increasingly hardcore population of fabulous monsters whose very gazes seemed intent on drawing blood. Soon the club came to be running almost 24/7, still profitably open to passing trade from around the world during regular nightclub hours, but in reality the permanent realm of a loose cadre of what can only be called transsexual death-ghouls—the global elite of that disparate band for whom this natural direction coincided with the means never to have to think of such dirty considerations as money, work or food. The mad-faced tower had become, in effect, a drug-den in nightclub drag.
And onwards it barrelled through the months, with its own unique momentum, pulling world-class DJs in and world-class spending in their wake. With all volume limits removed, the pumping of this building’s music and the flicker of its sky-sweeping images came to populate the whole grand space: over the desert, in between the aeroplanes in Sharjah, over the labour camp at Sonapur, up through the night-time city sky, and up and out above the Gulf.
Within the air came the echo of a tower-spike to match the Burj Khalifa, made of giant plinks of light and shafts of sound branching upward, hard and colour-smooth and perfect—like the dream of a thousand-storey Dubai skyscraper, pitched like a rocket-launch upon a draftsman’s screen with a mega-project soundtrack, to haul in investors. See the tower-spike sprout like an inverse water-spout, up among the mountains; and helter-skelter round its shaft at breakneck speed through the whistling air of night, via software magic, all set to the soundtrack’s stunning flash and burst of perfection and echoes… Two voices glance through this world-circling flash and cool of music: first, a yearning woman’s murmur rises through a howling wind, “Noémi … Noémi … Noémi…”; then that dead, passive, flat super-model voice again, weak and beautiful and affectless and Arizona-damaged, with her fluffy clouds and skies that went on forever, and the clouds would catch the colours—purple and red and yellow and … on fire. You don’t see that—you might still see them in the desert.
Third taster of The Platinum Raven, from chapter 8 “The mad-faced tower in the mountains”
[…] “OK,” she thinks, “it’s clearly time we drove there.”
It isn’t hard to arrange, after all: there’s a car, there’s a driver, there is certainly petrol, and there must surely be some kind of route to the tower, for all those party monsters to have chattered and preened their skeletal fabulousness all the way across the desert to its door.
…And hence it is that the Chocolate Raven’s forehead is pressed against the rear left window of a car shooting down a road, dead-straight for hours, through the dunes and across the plain.
Presently the sand on either side of the road gets rougher, giving way to dirt and scrub. Stones push through the dirt, and then the dirt becomes stone. The knuckles of endless rock stretching away in all directions remind her of the tale of a castle she once read and now cannot remember.
By the time she reaches the first toes of the foothills, the weather is turning. The colour of the sky above the road ahead is dirty rust: its surface bellies out with a flicker underneath, then a giant gash of ochre lightning rips through its height. This dazzling crackle stands out a split-second, vanishes—reappears a long half-second—then is gone.
Now the car is climbing the foothills. The humming of the engine in the glass on her face is hypnotic. Electric pylons march beside the road, then swing away down a sudden valley with a giant span of metal struts and wires into dark. She catches a sudden glimpse of the tower, far up ahead on the rock-face, before it swings out of view behind an intervening hill. Her scalp gives a tingle.
Vertiginous, she leans forward with her elbows on her knees, feeling she is shrinking in the width of the back seat. Ahead through the windscreen she sees, with a dread-prickle, manicured toy-sized trees shaped as fluffy grey teardrops, flanking the road where it climbs straight ahead. These toy-land trees start swelling as she watches them: top leaves writhing and twigs tight-clenched, all bathed in an odd and windless milky-yellow light. She feels as if she’s shrunk to a speck upon the seat, while the trees quiver ever upwards, as if they want to breathe: the fluffy tears of foliage have risen, so the car now climbs along a corridor of bare trunks as straight as metal bars. A rabbit springs across the road—ears in the headlights—and vanishes.
And now at the crest of the tree-chute, the mad-faced tower once again appears, this time very much closer and for real, with its two brown windows staring down upon her. Around the tower’s base upon the rock-slopes (wreathing the space where the pug hangs sluggish in its pale blue strait-jacket in amongst the struts, spitting sand), a fog churns and eddies. Feelers seem to stir in it, and now the Chocolate Raven’s scalp tightens even more, as a shape like a ram’s head starts from the fog, statuesque as a bust, flings its snout up and bleats while its eyes cut straight down the road into hers with a look of such sadness and loss and desolation that she feels she is seeing something nobody deserves to see: the Great Lie.
Streaks of pain and horror shoot around her through the air, and among this buffeting she half-hears snatches of beauty winging past her in gusts, like a distant music blown around a mountain by the wind. She sinks her head between her legs, here on the back seat, blocks her ears tightly with the sides of her knees, screws her eyes shut and screams out “DRIVE BACK NOW PLEASE…”
Table of Contents of The Platinum Raven
1. A sudden white rabbit
THE CHOCOLATE RAVEN
2. The most beautiful building in the world
3. Fronds A to P
4. Chocolate hair on white silk
5. The bellow on the rock-slopes
THE PLATINUM RAVEN
6. Platinum hair on black silk
7. Purple and red and yellow and … on fire
8. The mad-faced tower in the mountains
9. The squirly brown windows in the turret
10. Santa Monica Boulevard
11. In the arms of the man from the garden of love
12. The pug among the struts, in the pale blue strait-jacket
13. Black and rust and ochre over the plain
14. Slinky-smooth in the mirror mist
15. Planets hanging heavy
16. The adventures of the dead girl
17. A kiss of jagged glass
18. I see you!
19. Mirrors in the labyrinth
20. Analysis of motion through CCTV
21. The Platinum Raven’s message-in-a-bottle
22. The black and red flower
23. The point of silver in the dawn
24. Catch you later!
THE CHOCOLATE RAVEN
25. Electric aliveness and happiness, remembered
26. Scent of fucked-up dark devouring hunger
27. Through the Spire to the Pinnacle
28. Whisper of Scorpio
29. Flash of Amber in Scorpio
30. Two Ravens on the freeway
Rohan Quine, The Platinum Raven, literary fiction, litfic, magical realism, horror, dark fantasy, cyberpunk, contemporary, science fiction, gay, transgender, LGBT, Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeirah, London, Shard, skyscraper, desert, nightclub, drug