first short story in a while, first time with darkish theme
|Magpies cluster like vermin at the bottom of our garden. Mother says they must have a nest up in the thick evergreens, where it’s warm and far enough away from the fumes of the city. I think it’s because there is something unspeakable down there in the long grass. Something dead.
I like to wake up in the early hours of the morning when the air is still and quiet, and Mother has stopped her nervous pacing and gone to sleep. A magpie sits on my windowsill. One for sorrow. You are supposed to salute and to stop its beady eyes boring a hole into my soul I sit up and salute the same way Daddy taught me. Superstition is comfort to fools, but I am programmed with the same profound fear of the Devil as anyone else, and I feel it strong and foul in the pit of my stomach tonight.
A rustle of feathers makes my heart lurch. I see them. I see them, the rest of them, at the bottom of the garden, backs to me. They won’t meet my eyes. I feel like screaming to them. I feel like screaming to Mother; where’s the nest in the evergreens? Because all I see is a cloud of wings and death in the long grass she refuses to let me play in. I feel like screaming, maybe just because the house has been so quiet since Daddy…
I hate being scared. It feels like someone has a choke collar around my neck and won’t stop pulling. Lucifer is watching with his glassy eyes.
“Mummy, I want to look in the garden,” I tell Mother, who sits staring with eyes just as glassy as the magpie’s, and skin just as pale.
“I told you,” she says, never meeting my gaze, like she can’t bear to look at me, “don’t be scared of them. They live in the trees. Up in a nest where you can’t see them.”
“I didn’t say anything about the magpies, Mummy.”
She moves her mouth. Maybe it was a smile in another life, but it has long since weakened and died. “You scream out your window at night, dear.”
I make my way down the garden. When I look back up to Mother I see that she hasn’t moved from her seat. She has barely moved her eyes, just enough to stare blankly out at me. She doesn’t stop me like she used to. Just stares.
The magpies scatter when I get close. They are not as brave as I once thought. My foot hits something that isn’t long grass. It’s soft against my bare feet. I can see Daddy’s old Navy hat down here. I wonder how it got there. I wonder how Daddy’s arm got here too, and if the kitchen knife that lies on the ground used to be in the hole in his chest.
I look back at Mother, who still has the same dead smile as before. She stares directly into my eyes this time.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”