Cover Image
Samuel Skuse
The Harpy Owl

for Nancy

 

Jack Scrimshaw. Born 22/05/1991. Collected over the course of 10 years at Dartmoor Prison and Correction facility. The following entries were deemed pertinent to these proceedings.

 

It's strange, I don't recall a time before the farm. My family and I moved there when I was nine, but I have no recollection of doing so. It's as if I just woke up there one day and had always been there and would always be there. Just like the Harpy Owl. Had things worked out differently, I suppose that might be true. Father once told me once that previous to the farm, we had lived in a rundown, disgusting apartment in the city. There was mould on the walls and silverfish in the drawers that would scatter like sparks when you saw them. The neighbours would scream and drink and fuck till all hours of the morning, so we would rarely sleep. Can you even imagine? Of course, you can. You've seen it too, no doubt, everywhere you go, it's the same. It was no way to live, but Father saved us from all that when he bought Nun's Cross farm.

     It had turned out that Father had had his eye on the house for some time. Years, in fact. He would take drives out there on the weekend just to look at it. He had even knocked on the door once and spoken to the owner, but he had said he'd no intention of selling. But as luck would have it, the previous owner had died quite suddenly. Heart attack. Pop, dead. Whoever had inherited the property was desperate to sell, so Father had got an excellent deal. Some things are just written in the stars, I suppose. I have often been told our family's move to the farm was quite unusual, but I took it in my stride and trusted Father's judgement. Mother was less understanding, but then she always was an emotional woman and failed to see opportunities for what they were like Father did. The bigger picture. I suppose that's what made them the perfect couple. Mother was a school teacher, she even looked like a school teacher. Small with soft auburn hair, kindly eyes, and calming voice, which didn't command respect but would put you at ease. I found some old photographs of her as a teenager once. She was sort of pretty, I suppose. Something about her face shone when she smiled in those pictures, and something about the way she looked inside you said she could be trusted. She loved her job, although she taught at a rather inferior school, Chagworth Comp, which had a reputation for underage pregnancies, so it's hard to see why. Slagworth, Father called it. It's gone now, thank god.

<  2  >

     I believe mother was very upset about the move to Nun's Cross, as it meant a long commute, but she saw reason in the end. I do recall, a few weeks into our time at the farm, that the car broke down one morning. The diseased rasping of a blown exhaust woke me up, and I came downstairs to mother sobbing, hunched against the staircase. Father was explaining calmly - he really had such patience with her - that they had no funds to fix the car, that it would have to be scrapped, and that it was time to leave her job and focus on Nun's Cross. Don't you see, dearest? It's for the best. You can teach Jack now that he's left that damned school. You don't need that job, we have the savings from your parents' will. Our life is here now. As I returned to my room, I heard mother gargling something about not wanting to leave her job, and how would she tell them? Father must have decided to shoulder the burden for her, as later on, I heard him on the phone to the school informing them that Mrs. Scrimshaw would not be returning to teach there. As I recall, mother spent a few days in bed after that. When I asked, one night at dinner, if she was ill, Father looked at me for a second. Then he said, if sulking like a petulant child is an illness, which I don't doubt it is, then yes, you could certainly say so, before returning to his corned beef hash. We didn't speak for the rest of dinner. That was the first and last time my Father ever confided in me, and I've never forgotten it. Come to think of it that might have been one of the last times my Father spoke to me at all before he killed himself.

    

*

     Open the front door and step inside. Creaking and splintered wood-paneled fittings encase much of Nun's Cross. Dust gathers on all corners and surfaces, and feathers scatter across the floors. Seconds after you have cleaned, it would look just as it did before. It was as if the house had decided it was old and decrepit and refused to present itself in any other way. The entrance hall was always dark, the only light coming from the rooms on either side and the window at the top of the stairs. A small table was the only furnishing, holding an antiquated phone that looked so like a relic that I was always surprised on the few occasions that it did ring. To the left were the kitchen, white walls, wooden countertops, and a dark green oven with tiled flooring that was always cold as ice in the mornings. To the right was the living room with two large windows that would let in the light of the moors, but the curtains were always closed. At the back of the house, connecting the kitchen and the living room, was my Father's study. No one was ever allowed in, and the doors were always locked. Step back outside the front door now. Take in the gaping mouth of lonely expanse. Can you see it? You are hours from anywhere, anyone. The moors envelop you in a caress of rolling wonder, it protects you from the searing sins of the world beyond. But be careful because the clear skies can collapse to roaring black clouds in an instant. The sunlight can turn to pitch dark in a blink, leaving you lost and alone. The leat can overflow in a cascading downpour and wash away the farms. The ground can become a marshy, stinking bog that swallows the wild ponies whole like some great serpent. Sometimes that which protects you can also treat you the cruellest. Sometimes that which loves you can hurt you the most.

<  3  >

    

*

     Do you read the Bible? I do, often. At Nun's Cross Farm, it was the only book we ever had around, Father burned the rest. For fuel, you know? He would make me read bible passages aloud for an hour each day, so its wisdom was imparted into me as it once was into him. It brings me comfort somehow, and some of its stories aren't so different from my own. You really should read them. Some are fantastical, but we do not question them, do we? We approach each word with open-mindedness and faith. Sometimes I think would it be so absurd to ask, when I tell my own story, for a small piece of the same treatment? A tiny shred of faith. As John said, "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." These words have kept a flickering glimmer of hope alive inside me that one day I might come across one at least willing to hear my story. It is you, yes, I'm sure it is you. My mother visited me here some time ago, you know. Five years ago perhaps- maybe more, I don't know. Time tends to matter less when you have nothing to wait for. She sat in front of me, in complete silence, for what seemed like an eternity. I asked her questions, how are you, mother? Have you been coping? How is the farm? But, nothing. She just stared at me with those cold, judging eyes. Eyes so different from the kindly ones in those photographs, I had found that it was as if she had scooped out her own and popped in someone else's. Someone cruel and unforgiving. It was too much to bear. Can you imagine your own mother looking at you in such a way? I always thought mothers were supposed to love their children without question, but I guess mine never read that part of the handbook. I hope you never have to experience such a thing, I truly don't. Long after I had stopped asking her questions, she stood, turned, and walked away. I could hear her heels tapping on the polished floors after she had gone out of sight, and then nothing. After that day, I knew I would never receive forgiveness, at least from her. I tried to tell her what really happened about the Harpy Owl, but her mind was made up. In her cold eyes, I was a monster and nothing else, not even her son. She always was an emotional woman. She could never see the bigger picture. Maybe that's why it chose me and not her.

<  4  >

    

*

     Father hung himself from the tree in the field over from the house. It was a beautiful copper beech tree, tall and powerful, with strong branches which looked as if they were fighting for control with each other. It really was a beautiful tree, I can see why he chose it. I had come downstairs for my usual 9 am bible reading to find, not Father's tall frame stood, arms crossed, waiting expectantly at the bottom of the stairs, but mother sat at the kitchen table staring at the wall. Her expression was vacant, though she was dressed in a smart white blouse and figure-hugging pinstripe skirt that I had not seen before (which made a change from the frumpy, moth-eaten gowns she had taken to wrapping her body in when she actually left her room in those few days) and there was colour in her cheeks. I stood at the kitchen doorway and asked her where Father was. It took calling her name several times to break her from her stupor, and she fixed her eyes on me before smiling. She smiled. That heartless fucking whore smiled. I must confess I deeply regret not killing her in that moment. It must be said that she deserved it far more than any one of those others.

     "Sit down Jack, I'm afraid I have some terrible news."

    

*

     I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came. I will return to my house from which I came.

    

*

     There had been no note, no explanation of any kind. Though I never really felt like one was necessary. He was a great writer, you know, my Father. An academic actually, with published essays on classic literature; Milton, Chaucer and the such. I've read some of it, it's quite brilliant, though I can't confess to understand it all. He lectured at the university, a respectable and highly regarded one, years before I came along. His peers were jealous of him, though: his mind and his affinity for his work and his students. They spread malicious rumours of an illicit affair with one of his students, and the university unfairly dismissed him. After that, he turned his back on teaching, I mean, wouldn't you? He never really had a fixed career after that, I suppose he never recovered from that terrible betrayal, but he was usually locked away in his study. From the hallway, you could hear the clickety-clack of avid typing at his desk. Great minds can't be stifled for long. Although, in the end, I suppose it was too much. Of course, it was, it would be for anyone. Such betrayal, ousted from the work he was so passionate for, not to mention the lack of appreciation his own wife showed in the things he provided his family. It's enough to make anyone snap if you'll excuse the pun. I was upset when my mother told me that Father was dead - silly, I know, but I was young. I asked where he was, and her eyes flicked for a second outside the house, so I ran out while she called for me to stay. I just wanted to see him. I couldn't at first, I was looking around the garden, over the crumbling stone walls. Then I spotted him, limply hanging from the copper beech tree like a bauble at Christmas. I walked over, never looking away. His eyes were still open, his face grey as ice. He had dressed in his best suit, the dark blue pinstripe with the maroon pocket-square and brown brogues. He was swaying very slightly in the breeze. The moors had fallen silent in respect. I sat and watched him for some time. He looked so peaceful, happy almost. Below him, the rotting red leaves of the tree mingled with grey and brown feathers in piles that tried to reach up and cushion a fall that never quite came. I never feared death again after that day.

<  5  >

     Mother didn't want to call anyone, Father had no living family to tell, and calling the authorities would only invite in the world that Father so selflessly tried to shelter us from, she said. It was one of the few sensible things I ever heard my mother say and possibly the only time I'd ever heard her show gratitude to what my Father did for us. What he saved us from. She kissed my forehead, then afterwards she had cut him down we spent the day burying my Father's corpse in the muddy allotment behind the house. It was the closest I had ever felt to her. As I recall, the Harpy Owl visited me for the first time that night.

    

*

     My earliest memory I have was standing in the open doorway to the main house as a child, looking past the low crude stone wall and out onto the vast expanse of Dartmoor. The hills rose and fell like soaring waves against a backdrop of billowing clouded skies. Such an exciting prospect for a child, as I'm sure you can imagine. What adventures were there to be had? What mysteries lay over the horizon? You could stare in every direction for hours- days- and not see another soul and walk for miles and miles without hitting a shred of civilisation. No screaming neighbours, just peace and tranquillity. Our new lives, hosted by the welcoming arms of the moors. My thoughts often drift there when I allow them to, I cannot tell you how much I miss it. I suppose you would tell me it's the freedom that the moor represents that I miss, but such talk sounds like pseudo-psychology to me. If I wasn't walking amongst those towering rocks or vaulting over dry-stone walls or climbing ancient trees older than time itself, then I wished I was. The moment I stepped back indoors, I missed it. There I was home, there I was safe. Have you ever been? I suppose not. Few people that I meet nowadays have, though I always ask. Promise me that one day you will? Though I can't promise that you will ever come back. It has a way of holding on to you, keeping you there, even when you leave. You know they let me visit the farm once? Yes, a year or so ago. Or was it longer? It's completely abandoned now, of course. Left to rot, I suppose, after what happened there. It's a great shame if you ask me. It wasn't the farm's fault what happened any more than it was mine. Yet it is the house that suffers, left to starve like an unwanted puppy. Do you know the only thing I could think after I left? What had happened to all the animals before we moved in? After the old man's heart had burst like an over-ripe plum. Were they moved on to another farm? It's possible, but I doubt it. Mixing animals like that can cause problems, illness, and such. No, more likely they were all killed. Shot, one by one, in the head. Time-consuming and brutal, but ultimately the most humane. Without anyone to care for them, what choice would there have been? I would have done the same.

<  6  >

    

*

     I heard its voices long before I saw it for the first time that night. It started as a faint whispering. Barely discernible, like a leaking gas tap. No words, just a sort of gentle hissing. If you go walking over the moors and find shelter beneath the rocks of a tor, you hear the wind sweeping above you as it caresses the hills and forests. That's what it sounded like. I lay in my bed, shrouded in the darkness of my room, wondering whether it was my Father trying to talk to me. I really did. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? I always laugh to think about that now. I had seen him with my own eyes, hanging peacefully from that beautiful copper beech tree, and yet my first thought was that it must be him. He must have silently crept into my room, making sure not to let my bedroom door slam as he shut it. But of course, it wasn't him because he was buried in the allotment behind the house. What's more, this voice wasn't coming from any particular direction. I was not hearing it. It was already in my head. I lay there for - I couldn't even tell you how long I lay there… a long time - and I tried so hard to catch the fleeting glimpses of the words being spoken like they were wild butterflies. After some time, the voices grew and grew until they were a cacophony echoing down the corridors of my mind.

     Come to the window, Jack. Come to the window and look upon me. There is much I have to tell you.

     I say 'voices' because they were just that: not one voice but many. A chorus of different speakers, some sounded like men, some women, some children, and some types of voices altogether different that I will never understand. Some of the voices spoke with a smile as if on the edge of laughter. Some sounded sad and dejected. Some were screaming. There may have been a hundred voices altogether, or a million. I couldn't say. I've never heard a million voices before, but then I'd never heard anything like these voices either. They all spoke in perfect unison, inside my head, and repeated those lines over and over again.

<  7  >

     Come to the window, Jack. Come to the window and look upon me. There is much I have to tell you.

     I did not want to go to the window. It did not want to see where these voices came from. But I somehow knew that they would never stop until I did.

 

No one has ever believed me about the Harpy Owl and the things it told me. Not one single person has ever believed any of it. All people want to believe are the things I have done and that I did them. I spent a long time feeling very angry, a victim of a miscarriage of justice, doomed to spend the rest of my life suffering because no one would hear my story. Over time that has faded. The anger and resentment I felt for everyone just ebbed away like the changing tide. But one thing will never change: I will tell that same story to anyone who takes the time to listen. Because am a good and honest person, and that too will never change. Imagine these things had happened to you, wouldn't you do the same? The only thing that sets us apart, the only reason I am here and you are there, is that the Harpy Owl chose me. I pray that it never chooses you too and that what sets us apart remains that way forever. If I have to be the sole victim so that everyone else is spared, then so be it. I suppose that makes me something of a martyr? I think that is what God always intended. He will smile on me when my time comes to join Father once more.

    

*

     My window looked out onto the moors to the west and to the northwest a turn in the Devonport leat which runs through much of Dartmoor. On a clear day, you could even make out Crazywell Pool and the main roads leading back to the rancid spit and squalor of the City. But in the cold moonlight of that night, all I could really make out was the beech tree silhouetted against the creeping darkness.

     Yes. Yes. Closer, my child. I can almost see you now.

<  8  >

     I unlatched my window and swung it open. The biting rush of night air gnawed at my bones like termites, but I didn't mind one bit. My heart was loud, but I wasn't scared anymore. I felt ready for whatever was to come, whatever it may be.

     I see you, child. Do you see me?

     Something was sitting in the beech tree, on the same sturdy branch that Father had hung himself from. Below it, the half-cut rope that had cradled his body swayed gently. At first, all I could make out was the outline of a hunched figure, bulging and heavy like a sack of bones. There were strange curves and angles to the shape that made no sense to my squinting eyes, still tired and weary. All that I could clearly make out were two glistening eyes that were drinking in the moonlight greedily so that they burned with a cold blue flame. So intense and unwavering was the glow of those two eyes that they might have been mistaken for distant moons themselves. As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, I could see that the figure was that of an enormous bird. An owl. It was the size of a man, its plume tattered and decaying, and though it was large, it had hollow and sunken features like a skeleton.

     Look upon me, child. Speak to me so that we may finally be friends.

     So I did.

    

*

     'Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7.

     I can't tell you how many times I've read that line. What do you think it means? You can resist something in lots of different ways, can't you? Resisting temptations means to close your mind off from them. Resisting arrest means to fight. One is psychological, the other physical. Completely different, but both resisting. So then, which is right? Should I close my mind off to the devil or fight him? I read that line to my Father once. 'Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.'

<  9  >

     "But what if you can't, Father? What if you try to resist, and he won't let you?" I said.

     He put down his papers, folded away his reading glasses, and stood up. Then he punched me in the side of the head, so hard it knocked me to the ground. Then he began to kick me hard, as you might kick a rabid dog. His face was red and contorted and full of fury. I curled up in a ball and waited for it to end, which I was very good at by then. When it did end, he left out the front door without a word, and I didn't hear him come home until very late that night. My ears rang like a fire alarm, and I pissed blood for days. I spent a long time thinking about what he was trying to teach me and hated myself for not knowing clearly. At first, I thought he was teaching me that if the devil won't let you resist, you fight it with everything you have. But now I think differently. Now I think he was teaching me that if the devil won't let you resist, then you are at his mercy. That notion brings me a deep sense of comfort. It tells me that I never had a choice.

    

*

     Who are you? What do you want?

     I am your friend, child. I have been watching you for a long, long time. I have been looking over you from up in this tree. I wish only to be your friend, child and to share secrets with you as all friends do.

     Do you live here too?

     I have waited for you, and now you are here with me. I have so many things to tell you, child. Will you hear them?

     I haven't had a friend before. Apart from my Father.

     Yes, my child. Your Father, who chose my beautiful tree to end his life and move on to the next. He is waiting for you there. But until it is your time to join him, he wishes for me to love you as he did.

<  10  >

     You know my Father? Did he say that to you?

     I know his mind, child. You must trust me, as you did him.

     What does he want me to do?

     I can tell you all the secrets you desire, child. But first, you must accept me as your friend. Only friends can share secrets.

     Okay, you are my friend.

     Thank you, child. Thank you. Now I am your friend. And you are mine.

     So what is the secret?

     Your mother. That witch that I see treat you so cruelly every day from up here in my tree. She will try to sell the farm and take you back to the city. She will undo everything your great Father worked so hard to build and take you back to all the evil he tried to protect you from. You cannot let this happen.

     But what… what can I do?

     She has a secret that she has not told you, child. Your mother has a baby growing inside her. Your brother. Your Father did not even know about this baby. She kept it from him even though your Father made sure to put it inside her. In six months from now, the baby will be born. When this happens, she will desert you. The baby will become her only child, and you will be forgotten.

     Why? Why would she do that.

     Because she sees that you are strong and powerful, child, just like your Father. This scares her. She will distance herself from you just as she distanced herself from him.

     So what can I do?

     You must continue to be the strong and powerful person that she fears. That is what your Father wanted, and for now, that is enough. I will be here for you, always. That is what friends do. But, child, you must not ever speak of me. No one can know of our relationship and the things we say and do. They would not understand, child. They would think you mad.

<  11  >

    

*

     I can't remember anything else that we spoke about that night. It was as if I blinked and found myself back in my bed with the morning sunlight streaming onto my pillow. My initial reaction was to reflect on what a strange dream it had been. An enormous owl. The voices in my head. Talk of my Father. My mother's secret. Those burning blue eyes. My next reaction was to wonder if it was indeed a dream, why my bedroom window was wide open, and whose handprints were etched into the dust on my sill. The beech tree rustled and whispered softly beyond, though it had nothing to say.

    

*

     The Harpy Owl didn't speak to me for a long time after that night. I went to my window each day once the light had faded and the foxes began to scream in the black. I could often hear the faintest whispering, like lapping waves on a distant shore, but the sound never grew louder. But some nights, I would see it, perched in the tree on that same branch. The glowing jewels of its eyes cutting through the darkness and boring a deep hole into my mind. But it never spoke, even if I asked it questions. If I ventured outside to see it closer, it would have vanished. Sometimes I would feel angry and betrayed at the Harpy Owl's silence. We are supposed to be friends, I would say to myself, we are supposed to share our secrets. I craved its attention and guidance. I'm sure you've felt the same way before? But after many weeks of silence and many nights of seeing the owl watching over me, I decided I was asking too much. I told myself that the Harpy Owl was still there, regardless of whether it spoke or not. It still remains in the tree, close to me. It had not abandoned me, and for that, I should be thankful. All I needed to do was heed its words and carry out its instructions in order to please it. In that way, I could prove my love for it.

    

*

     Ever since my Father had died, mother was different. She started wearing her hair down, so it reached down her like flowing silk and tickled the small of her back. Some days she would cake her face in make-up, bright red lipstick would make her lips look plump and ripe. She began to dress in whorish figure-hugging clothes that accentuated the curves of her hips and breasts. She smiled and hummed incessantly. When she passed me, she would kiss the top of my head and stroke my hair like I was some pathetic newborn puppy begging for attention. The car was taken away by a burly tattooed mechanic one day and returned a week later in perfect working order. She cooked dinner after our lessons and tucked me in bed at night. I feigned enjoyment in these activities so as not to raise suspicion that I knew her secret and was privy to her plans. So committed was I to maintaining this façade that I would spend entire evenings led on her lap while she read stories from books that she brought back from the library in Princetown. The house became blindingly bright and insufferably airy, some days, you could hardly tell you were inside at all. I began to notice a lump developing on my mother's stomach that grew minutely with each passing day. Still, she said nothing about it. The curtains in the living room stayed open during the day.

<  12  >

    

*

     I have a recurring dream that I've had ever since those times back at Nun's Cross. I am soaring across Dartmoor, high in the cloudless sky, passing over the plains, the jagged tors like the protruding teeth of giants. I have great feathered wings that stretch far out to my sides and tear through the wind effortlessly. I have never felt so free. Far below me, I spot the farm. It is ablaze, enveloped by a towering inferno, and thick plumes of smoke ascend into the void. Then I am standing in front of the house, facing my bedroom window. The flames drip off the blistering exterior, and the heat smothers my face and scorches my folded wings. My window is wide open, and stood beyond is my mother. She is naked and cradling a baby in her arms that is wrapped in many layers of blankets. She is looking at me and smiling. I feel overcome by emotion and desperately want to go to her and stay with her. Have her stroke my hair and tell me everything is going to be okay. But I don't go to her. Instead, I turn around to see the copper beech tree, which reaches so far into the sky that it is lost among the billowing clouds that have gathered to blot out the sun. On the strongest branch stands my Father. He is dressed in his dark blue pinstripe suit with a maroon pocket square. A rope hangs around his neck. Like me, he has huge wings that reach out either side of him like powerful bear claws. He reaches out a hand, and I know he wishes for me to join him. I stand still, a rooted foundation in the middle of them both, as feathers pile at my feet and begin to consume me. Then I wake up.

 

Six months later, the child was born. A man called Alan, who was an ex-colleague of my mother's, drove her to the hospital. He had offered for me to sit in the back of the car with my mother, but I calmly told him that I wouldn't be coming to the hospital with them. Someone needed to look after the house, I explained. He looked at me like I was insane, but my mother's screams beckoned him to the car without any further objections. They returned the next evening with a newborn baby boy wrapped in copious amounts of soft blankets. By that time, my mother and I were not speaking anymore. She had sat me down a few months before and finally revealed her secret.

<  13  >

     "Of course, you have noticed by now that there will be a new life joining us, Jack," she had said to me softly, "I have decided to keep this baby. You will have a brother."

     I've always thought what a strange thing to say that was. 'I have decided to keep this baby'? As opposed to what? Were you planning on misplacing it? She then went on to tell me that when the baby arrived, we would be looking for a new place to live. Nun's Cross Farm was not a suitable place to raise a child, she told me. It had worked for me, so I have no idea what she meant by that either. Regardless, everything the Harpy Owl had warned of had turned out true. Not that I ever doubted it, of course. It was my only friend in the world, so why would it have lied? She was trying to destroy everything my Father had worked so hard to build. After that, my façade could finally end. I stopped talking to my mother entirely, I refused to eat the food she cooked and showed her my disdain and distrust of her in any way I could. Some nights I was catch her crying in the living room next to the books she used to read to me. I suppose she was coming to terms with the mistreatment she had showed me and my Father's memory. But this didn't last, because with time, her attitude towards me distorted. She detached from me entirely, I became a ghost in the house she shared with me. I felt her let go of my hand and walk off into the darkness ahead. And for that, I was glad. Finally, I was rid of her oppressive rule over me, and I could be free. With each day, my hatred of her grew like twisting weeds over an abandoned garden gate, the lock now bolted shut.

    

*

     The Harpy Owl still stayed silent, but its presence grew larger. It no longer stayed in the copper beech tree. Some nights I would wake up with it arched over my bed, its decaying form filling the entire room. Its face above me, inches from mine. Blue eyes boring deep into me. It smelled of smoke. It would just stare for what felt like an eternity. The window was never open, so I do not know how he got in. But by morning's first light, it was gone. It never touched me, and I knew it didn't want to hurt me. If it had spoken, I'm sure it would have said so.

<  14  >

    

*

     They cut the tree down. Did you know that? A few years ago, they cut that beautiful copper beech tree down and chopped up the corpse into little pieces. Apparently, it was already dead, but how can that be true? How can something so strong and powerful ever die? That tree would have lived on forever if they'd have just let it. If they'd have just given it a chance. One day I will go back to the place I came from and plant a new tree, and it will grow even taller and stronger than its predecessor. I will live in that tree and protect it. I will return to my house from which I came.

    

*

     When I woke up that night, I had the overwhelming feeling of bitter cold stabbing into my lungs. It took me several minutes to realise that I was looking at my bedroom window, but not from the comfort of my bed. I was looking at it from the outside. I slowly re-entered my mind and took in my surroundings. I was sitting in the tree opposite Nun's Cross farm; the ground lay far below me. Beneath the branch, the cut remnants of the rope my Father had hung himself from swayed and wriggled in the night air like a worm for bait. I suddenly became aware of a weight in my arms and looked in my lap to see that I was holding the baby wrapped tightly in warm blankets. He was still fast asleep. I remember he looked so peaceful. Out of the corners of my vision, great wings of torn and shredded feathers emerged from behind me, and I realised another presence sharing the branch.

     It is time, Jack. This is what your Father wanted. You must trust me.

     I could just make out the allotment where Father was buried in the moonlight. It was untended and abandoned.

     Your mother is taking everything from you. Everything you loved.

     The Harpy Owl's wings rested on my shoulders. They felt warm, and I longed for their embrace. My tears froze to my cheeks as they fell.

     Now she will see.

<  15  >

     The rope was short, but his neck was only little.

    

*

     I remember one of the first nights we spent at Nun's Cross farm after we moved in. I walked into my bedroom after brushing my teeth to find my Father stood by my open window. He was reaching his head out, erect and alert as a meerkat. A lit cigarette glinted in his hand. As he spotted me, he put his finger to his mouth, gesturing for me to remain quiet, then pointed up towards the starless sky. In the distance, a soft twitwoo carried out from beyond the dark. My Father smiled. His blue eyes twinkled as he blew smoke into the night. I hadn't seen him smile for as long as I could remember. I felt a euphoric glow pass through me.

     I think there's an owl living in that tree. Maybe it's the Harpy Owl.

     He turned to face me…

     Have I ever told you the story of the Harpy Owl, Jack? Be good, and maybe I will.

     I could tell he thought we would be happier at Nun's Cross. I could tell he thought we would be safe here. He never did tell me the story of the Harpy Owl. I guess I told it myself in the end.

    

*

     I received a letter from my Mother a week ago. It lies, unopened, by the window. Some days I long to read what she has to say to me; other days, I want to burn it. I suppose my version of a compromise is to leave it unopened so that both courses of action remain possible. I'm told she delivered it herself, in person. She was with a man and a child. I do not know who they were, though they were described to me. The strangest thing is I find myself longing to find out. I find myself longing to talk to them and her, though I do not know what I would say. I'm sure this feeling will pass. Upon the envelope, she wrote my name. I'm surprised she remembers it and even more surprised that she could bring herself to write it. Maybe that is a first step. Maybe one day, she will stroke my hair again and tell me it will all be okay again. Why am I even thinking that? These childish feelings will pass, too, no doubt.

<  16  >

     I can't see much from my window here. Concrete and sky. But in the early evenings, the fading sunlight trickles through like a leaking dam and rests upon the floor. I lie in it and feel the faint warmth in the parts of me it touches until it's gone. Some days, the light is broken for a brief moment as something glides past the window outside, but I never quite catch what it is. The smell of smoke.

     Each day, more feathers fill my room. Soon they will block out the light from the window. They will rise above my head and finally swallow me whole. A pony in the marsh.

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