Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
«Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,» I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven «Nevermore.»
...Dead gray waves were running over the dead molten sand and with metronome precision rolling back to the horizon where the foaming sea medley touched upon the dull sky torn up with gaping atmospheric holes and whirlwind wells heavy with tornadoes. The sky was unwillingly spitting small, scarcely luminous splashes into the filthy spittoon of the Earth, the soil lightly smoking in the places of direct hits and cooling down with caked crust – it had been smoking for a few years, though. The wind was roaming along the coast, the wind was whistling in the dry skeletons of a few remaining buildings, the wind was stirring the dusty tulle of ashes, showing the bones buried under it. The sky was gazing at the remains indifferently. It didn't care...
In the first days corpses were so numerous that crows crazy with joy indulged in luxurious feasts. Due to radiation the air was almost sterile, and the birds' squash dragged out for weeks, then – for months... Decay progressed slowly, and when many of the flock grew bald and died in the general hubbub and wing-flapping – their bodies would remain unpecked. Winged brothers, ones of better luck – they preferred human flesh.
Little by little crows noticed where the invisible death was lurking and kept away from those places. By and by food was growing scarce, and it was getting harder to find bodies untouched by decay or beaks; to catch a rat was out of the question. In the first days after the End, in spite of all prognoses, rats had far less luck than crows. Gloomy birds were digging in the ruins, flying from one spot to another, raking light rustling ashes; and no one wished to realize that the time of plenty had lapsed into non-existence...
...The crow was sitting on the shore, waiting. The sea from time to time brought something edible to the beach: a crushed starfish, a crab boiled in its shell, a violet jellyfish... The crow was hungry and angrily squinting its blood-red eye at the dirty surf foam. Nothing. Bad era. Especially bad after the recent abundance slightly touched by fire... The crow gave out a hoarse croak, and, for an instant, in the grinding sound of its throat there came a forgotten word of a forever-gone race. An alien race. Tasty and abundant. And never again now... Never.
Another wave licked the damp sand of the beach with indifferent rustling and rolled back like all the preceding ones, leaving the gray flakes and a thing which was absolutely unsuitable for the depressing monotony of the seashore. The thing's edibility was doubtful – yet the crow hobbled over to the pile of slowly receding foam where something dark glistened...
On the sand there lay an ancient paunchy green-glass bottle firmly corked and sealed. The crow squinted one eye at the cork, then the other... At last its natural curiosity won. The bird pecked at the cork cautiously. And once more, with more confidence... When the black burglar managed to break through the layer of stone-hard tar it became easier: rotten wood crumbled freely under the strokes of the tough beak. Here, one more time, and again, and...
The frightened crow had just enough time to hop aside. Yellowish brown smoke that broke out of the bottle-neck clouded above and thickened, forming a naked meters-high bronze-skinned figure with an agate mane.
«I heed and obey!» – the giant's deep voice thundered over the dead shore.
Silence answered him. Only the gray waves rustling, only the dreary wind whistling.
The genie shivered.
«Where are you, o master who released me?! What would you command: to destroy a city or to build a palace?..»
The crow, distrustful, shifted from foot to foot and decided against coming closer for the time being.
Perplexed, the genie looked around, and saw, with horror and disbelief the smoking ruins, the leaden sea and what in some places showed from under the ashes disturbed by the wind. He shuddered and made an involuntary step back to the long-familiar bottle. The step shook the
silent beach, and the crow gave out heart-rendering croaks. The genie looked back.
«What would you command, o master?» – he squatted before the bird, and in his piercing eyes flickered a feeling of doom.
The crow ruffled up its feathers mockingly. The genie had already realized what the hungry bird wanted, but he still made a hopeless attempt to change the destiny.
«Maybe, I'd better build a palace? – the genie asked timidly. – Or destroy a city...»
The sullen crow glanced at the ruins. The genie sighed heavily and set to his work...
...Smallest lumps of primeval protoplasm were merging and greedily absorbing the nutritious substance from a thick warm broth permeated by ultra-violet rays; they were splitting, increasing in number, their structure was rapidly getting more and more complex, the strongest ones were devouring the weak and surviving, and life was already getting out onto the land and spreading all over the new unexplored spaces...
Giant reptiles were wandering among the giant ferns, the formidable steam-roller of the Ice Age was flattening the shivering planet, and the first ape grabbed a stick with its hairy hands... and men in chariots threw their darts into the running barbarians, and Rome was burning, and Dresden was in flames, and the first nuclear mushroom grew over the secret proving ground, and a trembling finger hung over the scarlet button...
The genie hunched his back and got back into his bottle.
...Dead gray waves were running over the dead molten sand, and with metronome precision rolling back to the horizon where the foaming sea medley touched upon the dull sky torn up with gaping atmospheric holes and whirlwind wells heavy with tornadoes.
The ancient paunchy green-glass bottle firmly shut with a tarred cork lay on the soft sand. The crow scornfully brushed it with its wing, and set out on a slow walk along the shore, stopping from time to time to peck at the bodies lightly covered with sand. There was plenty of food. The crow was satisfied.
The delicate hands of surf touched the bottle, turned it over and drew back into the sea – farther and farther away from the silent shore. Without looking back, the crow gave out a muffled croak, and for an instant in the grinding sound of its throat there came a forgotten word of a forever-gone race.