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C AT
WINTERS

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AMULET BOOKS • NEW YORK

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PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Winters, Cat, author.
Title: The raven’s tale / Cat Winters.
Description: New York, NY: Amulet Books, 2019. | Summary: Seventeen-year-old
Edgar Poe’s plans to escape his foster family, begin classes at the
prestigious new university, and marry his beloved Elmira Royster go awry
when a macabre Muse appears with a request.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018046694 | ISBN 9781419733628 (hardback)
Subjects: LCSH: Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809–1849—Childhood and youth—Juvenile
fiction. | CYAC: Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809–1849—Childhood and
youth—Fiction. | Supernatural—Fiction. | Inspiration—Fiction. |
Authors—Fiction. | Richmond (Va.)—History—19th century—Fiction.
Classification: LCC PZ7.W76673 Rav 2019 | DDC [Fic]—dc23

Text copyright © 2019 Catherine Karp
Jacket illustrations copyright © 2019 Shane Rebenscheid
Book title lettering by María Belén La Rivera
Book design by Hana Anouk Nakamura

Published in 2019 by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS. All rights reserved.
No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.

Printed and bound in U.S.A.
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Amulet Books are available at special discounts when purchased in quantity for premiums
and promotions as well as fundraising or educational use. Special editions can also be created
to specification. For details, contact specialsales@abramsbooks.com or the address below.

Amulet Books® is a registered trademark of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

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For all the young dreamers of the world.

Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.

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PART I

a
WAITING TO ESCAPE RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

—­ February 5, 1826 —­
And so, being young and dipt in folly
I fell in love with melancholy . . .

—­EDGAR ALLAN POE, “Introduction,” 1831

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CHAPTER ONE

Edgar
a

G
ood morning, ladies and gentlemen! I imagine myself
saying from the pulpit in the pink sanctuary of our
church. My name is Edgar Poe, and today, for reasons I
don’t fully comprehend, I’m obsessed with the ­seventy-­two bodies
buried beneath us.
Don’t ever forget, my dear friends, I continue with this grim
fancy, that a grisly collection of bones, and teeth, and soot sits
below your very feet, even as you try not to think of such horrors.
Even when your heart is giddy with evangelical glee this fine Feb-
ruary morning, the victims of our infamous Richmond Theater fire
still dwell among us down ­there—­or at least w­ hat’s left of the poor
­souls—­piled together in a moldering mass grave.
And then I envision myself tipping my silk hat with the
coyest of grins and saying, A happy Sunday to you all!
Down below the floorboards creaking beneath my
knees, deep in the belly of Monumental Church, stands a
crypt built of bricks that, indeed, holds the remains of all
­seventy-­two victims of the great Richmond Theater fire of
1811. I kneel beside my foster mother in the Allan family
pew, my lips moving in prayer, my hands clasped beneath my

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chin, but my mind slips down between the cracks of the floor
and steals into the depths of that underground tomb that still
smells faintly of ashes.
The doomed Richmond Theater stood on this very site.
The victims of the fire once breathed the same air I’m inhaling
right now. I might have burned along with them if my mother,
an actress, h ­ adn’t died of illness eighteen days before the
­blaze—­if, as a child not yet three, two strangers, the Allans,
­hadn’t taken me into their home and carried me off to the
countryside for Christmas.
The back of my neck tingles with a prickling of dread. My
eyes remain shut, but I feel someone watching from the shad-
ows of the church’s salmon pink walls. Yes, she’s watching ­me—­a
­raven-­haired maiden in a gown spun from threads made of
cinders and s­ oot—­a girl my own age, a mere s­ eventeen—­one
of the dozens of young women whom the fire trapped in the
narrow passageways, whom men crushed beneath their feet in
the mad exodus from the box seats. The smell of smoke stings
my nostrils, and accompanying it, the stench of the maiden’s
hair burning.
There! There it is again! Singed hair . . . and smoke! Dear
God! Black, blistering smoke that chokes, and strangles, and
­suffocates—­
“Edgar!” snaps Ma in a whispered shout.
I give a start and discover that Ma and the rest of the con-
gregation have returned to their seats. I’m panting, I realize.
Every muscle in my body has clenched.
Ma pats the hard slab of the bench and whispers, “The
prayer is over. Remove yourself from the floor, please.”
I push myself off my knees, the soles of my shoes squeak-
ing with such a fuss that Judge Brockenbrough in front of me
turns and frowns like an angry old trout. I slide back onto

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the bench just as the Right Reverend Bishop Moore embarks
upon his sermon, preached from high in a pulpit shaped
like a ­wineglass—­a shape, I might add, that likely explains
the bountiful quaffing of wine among his parishioners after
church every Sunday.
“Renounce ‘the pomps and vanities of the wicked world,’ ”
the bishop calls down to us, and his snowy white hair swings
against his shoulders. “Silence your muses who linger in fire-
light and shadows, whispering words of secular inspiration,
muddling minds with lewd and idle aspirations that detract
from lives of charity, piety, and modesty.”
Ma gulps, and one of my former classmates, Nat Howard,
a rival poet, turns his face my way from across the aisle with
a lift of his eyebrows that seems to ask, Is he really giving this
same damn sermon again?
I squeeze my hands together in my lap and gnash my
teeth, bracing for yet another tirade against the arts.
“In the dawns of our ­childhoods”—­the bishop’s voice
softens; the broad expanse of his bald pate sparkles with
­sweat—­“in the midst of nursery games and fairy stories,
the sweet voices of muses coaxed every single one of us into
joining them on fantastic flights of fancy. As naïve babes, we
knew not to ignore them. Yet the strongest among us swiftly
learned that to walk the path of righteousness, we must turn
away from foolish temptations and imaginary realms before
our passions grow unruly and ­wild—­before the world views
our extravagance. Silence your muses!”
I flinch, as does Ma.
“To live without sin,” continues the bishop,“we must reject
the theater and other vulgar forms of entertainment—card
playing, waltzing, bawdy music, lascivious literature penned
by ­hell-­dwelling hedonists such as the late Lord Byron . . .”

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Dear God, this is too much! Not only do I consider
insulting the memory of Byron a despicable sacrilege, but Pa
yelled at me about stifling my poetic muse just last night. His
fists, as a matter of fact, shook like they longed to beat the
poetry out of me before I leave for college next week, and he
pummeled me with insults.
“Pursuing the life of an artist,” says the bishop, “inevitably
leads to promiscuous intercourse between the sexes, drunk-
enness, and other forms of debauchery. Fourteen years ago
this past December, God witnessed the debauchery among
us. He saw the gambling, the prostitution, the theatrical exhi-
bitions, and the blasphemy among the theater players whom
this city welcomed with open arms. Upon this very plot of
land, in front of a house packed with adults and children of
every stratum of Richmond ­society—­rich and poor, black
and white, Christian and ­Jew—­the Placide & Green Com-
pany performed a pantomime entitled . . .” The bishop pats
his brow with a handkerchief and winces before uttering the
name of the show the actors performed when flames engulfed
the theater: “The Bleeding Nun.”
Ma shakes her head in shame over that unfortunate title,
as though she were the playwright who concocted it. Judge
Brockenbrough’s large frame shudders in front of me. Bishop
Moore casts a frown in my direction, and I fight against
squirming, for I’m the grown, orphaned son of two Placide &
Green theater p­ layers—­as everyone here knows.
“The Lord punished this ­ town’s depravity with fire
and suffering,” he says, tears shining in his eyes. “He called
for us to rise from the ashes and build this house of wor-
ship on the very site of the inferno, lest we forget the errors
of our ways that wrought that terrible night of tragedy. If
we stray from holiness once more, he will smite us down
again. He. Will. Smite. Us. Down. Again.” The bishop

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rises to his full height and clutches the sides of his pul-
pit, as though steering a schooner across the Atlantic. He
even looks a mite seasick, his lips pale and puckered, yet
he musters the strength to bellow once more, “Silence your
muses!”
Ma grabs my left hand, and a horrifying hush trembles
across the congregation. Sniffles circulate among the parish-
ioners, who dab liquid eyes with handkerchiefs fetched from
coats and ­purses—­the usual aftermath of a Bishop Moore ser-
mon, even when he’s not preaching about the fire that killed so
many loved ones in Richmond.
And yet, despite the ­window-­rattling force of the bishop’s
warnings, despite genuine fear for my own soul, despite Pa’s
commands for me to cease writing my poetry, my mind drifts
back down into that basement crypt, to the soot and the
bones, and I ponder how many words I can rhyme with “gore.”

MPM

After the service, when the fine Episcopalians of Richmond
gather their hats and coats, Ma steps away to speak with
friends about a charity project, and I wander out to the aisle
on my own.
“Eddy,” calls a familiar female voice to my left.
The weight of the sermon lifts from my lungs when I see,
weaving toward me through the other churchgoers, my darling
Sarah Elmira ­Royster—­normally a Presbyterian—dressed in
a blue satin dress that matches her eyes. She wears her hair
pulled back from the sides of her face in smooth sheets of
brown tresses, finer than silk, without the clusters of ringlets
that tend to dangle in front of the other girls’ ears.
I push my own curls back from my face and smile. “What
are you doing here, Elmira?”

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