In 2016 I plan to write and post regular short stories for the entertainment of the pressed for time who love to lose themselves in a tale. Stories will appear under my ‘short stories’ tab and on the associated Facebook page (https://m.facebook.com/phdancershortstories/). I have decided to post the stories into my feed here in sets of three as well for ease of access. So here are the first three short stories from this year.
It was the kind of day that smelt of new beginnings, ice crystals forming rainbow reflections on the grass. Frozen leaf litter crunched underfoot and the sound of pigeons digging for seeds was louder than the sporadic echo of voices that carried on the still air. Abbey thought it seemed as though the parklands could be infinite on days like this. She listened to the pad of her boots on the frosty ground, feeling each step as her weight pressed into her toes, and watched the flitting forms of robins in the brambles, where the coffee-brown clumps of dried blackberry fruit were the only indication of the feast the birds would find there in the Spring.
Abbey took the narrow river path, wanting to stay immersed in the tranquil morning. Fewer people walked this way, and the birds were braver, often landing on the tall reed stems beside the track. Abbey looked into these reeds now, listening for the twittering call of red breasted robins. Presently she thought she spied a nest tucked into the briar rose that wove its way between the reed stalks. Coming closer, she peered in around the thorns. It was a nest indeed, moss woven between the interlocked fibres. No birds or eggs were inside, much to her disappointment, just a solitary forgotten feather, which had become entangled in the weave. Abbey glanced about, checking that no one was coming, and then clambered in amongst the foliage to get a closer look. She hoped she might find tiny eggshells, or clues as to whether the birds who had built this nest would return to use it again in another season.
As she crouched and moved in amongst the reeds, Abbey felt as though she became smaller, the world of the briar roses and the insects among the reeds enveloping her. She looked up from below at the nest, and saw something curious. The intricate weave on the underside seemed to form a tiny, wicker step pattern, curving around the nest in a spiral towards the upper edge, as though it were a spiral staircase to the tiny home inside. Abbey wriggled in under the briar rose, pushing aside the automatic fear of getting stuck. Above her, she heard a faint rustling, and a quiet twanging twittering sound. She held very still, listening hard. Perhaps there were really baby birds inside, and she had just missed them because they were so small.
Presently the twanging came again; then again, this time a different note. Suddenly the air below the briar rose was filled with music; delicate music that could be missed by passers-by, she thought, imagined to be insects or frogs, yet from here it sounded like the tiniest of harps or lyres, playing a flitting folk tune suitable for a dance. She turned onto her back and looked up, absorbed in the music. From here she could see a piece of vine that hung just so, like a tiny climbing rope. Rosehips, collected to one side in a cupped leaf, as though set aside in a fruit bowl. As she listened, Abbey heard more sounds joining the tune, high notes almost out of her range of hearing, similar to the voices of the red robins she liked to watch. Abbey closed her eyes and listened to the lilting tune. Something lived here, she thought. Whatever it could be, she would make the most of its gentle tune while she remained unnoticed. Something that small would surely be frightened of something as large as her.
When Abbey opened her eyes, she became aware of the pad, pad, of her boots on the leaf-padded ground, and realised she was on the return loop of her walk, headed for home. The green expanse of the grass opened up around her, and the shouts of people at sport training carried across the lawns. Drawing in a deep breath of the chilled air, she released it in a sigh of rising steam, and wondered whether the music would be there again tomorrow.
The tin teapot had been on the mantelpiece in the kitchen for as long as anyone could remember. It was on that high shelf, the one no one could reach without something to stand on, which meant no one used it, and probably whoever put it up there hadn’t really used it much either. No one ever questioned why it was kept, though. They just went on living in the house and never noticed it all that much. Until one day, someone got up and noticed that it the tin teapot was gone, because the empty space was much more noticeable than the object that had always been there.
‘Who moved the teapot?’ Aunty Marjorie demanded, pointing an accusatory finger at the high shelf. Everybody looked about and shrugged and mumbled in a surprised but unconcerned sort of way until it was determined that nobody had taken it. ‘Well somebody must have taken it! It’s gone! What else could have happened? Imps?’ Aunty Majorie sort of inflated and went a bit pink, indignant at the idea that something inexplicable had happened, and even more so at the thought of fantasy creatures. Cousin Tony rubbed his nose and shrugged.
‘I’m sure it will turn up. Perhaps the imps would like to take a bird house instead, and bring the teapot back.’ He opened the cupboard of odds and ends and got out one of his home-made bird houses, which were really just boxes with different-shaped doors cut into the front. He held onto it by a corner and stretched up the full length of his arm to try to poke the bird house onto the high shelf where the teapot had been. Aunty Majorie glowered.
‘There are no imps Tony! For heaven’s sake stop being superstitious.’ She bustled off with a duster into the living room, leaving the rest of them to finish assembling the morning tea. Carly tipped the fresh scones into a basket and put them on the big scrubbed table.
‘Maybe Grandma’s spirit is making tea.’ She said with a smile. ‘Someone needs to make some!’ She looked pointedly at her mother who was leaning on the counter near the kettle.
After everyone had finished their tea, the family wandered into the front garden for the Easter egg hunt. Carly ran about trying to make sure everyone found some, but Dad had three quarters of the eggs in his container in the first twenty minutes, as ever, and her brother Max had forgotten where he’d hidden most of the eggs she’d given him early this morning, which made it difficult to tell anyone ‘hot’ or ‘cold’. Tony appeared out of the daisy bushes, triumphantly carrying a garden gnome.
‘I found Borris!’ He announced. ‘I always wondered where he got to!’ He began dusting off the dirt.
‘I’ll find a spot for him inside.’ Said Mum, taking the garden gnome out of Tony’s hands and striding back into the house. Carly sighed.
‘Okay, Dad, you better share your eggs around a bit I think. Let’s put them in one big basket and that way everyone can take a reasonable number home later.’ Everyone followed Carly back inside.
As they were sitting around the table again, passing around a fresh pot of tea and unwrapping chocolate, Mum reappeared, smiling, with the tin teapot.
‘Hey! It’s the missing pot!’ Exclaimed Tony. ‘Where was it?’ Carly’s mother stretched up on her toes and ineffectually tried to place it back on the high shelf, and Tony got up to help her.
‘Aunt Majorie had it on her knitting shelf.’ Smiled Mum. ‘She must have had some plans for it that she forgot about.’ Aunt Majorie huffed.
‘I did not! One of you silly superstitious folks must have moved it and forgotten.’ Frowning, she dolloped jam on a leftover scone.
Tony slid the teapot back into place and came back to the table. Carly noticed that he didn’t need to put the bird house back in the cupboard, but she didn’t say anything. Probably Aunt Majorie had found a spot for it in the garden.
The Billy 28/03/16
The surface of the tea glistened with the reflections of the pepper tree branches above, swaying in the light breeze. The coals of the campfire below the billy glowed warmly, perhaps unnecessarily, with the bright sky above still offering some heat. But Rodger stretched out his toes toward the fire anyway, watching for the steam as he waited for it to swirl above the pot, savouring the heat as it touched the soles of his feet. He absent-mindedly twirled a stem of rosemary in his fingers, plucked from the box at his side. A rustle by his ear told him Hooter was at roost on his shoulder. He looked sidelong at the bird, who turned his sleepy face towards Rodger while the rest of his body maintained its tree branch impression, and made a faint hooting sound.
‘Yes ‘ooter. There will be bacon rind.’ Rodger gave the odd looking bird a scratch and Hooter lifted his head so that he looked like a broken-off branch again. ‘You know, ‘ooter,’ Said Rodger, ‘Another bird might try ter make me question me ol’ mum’s advice ‘bout shape-shifting by soaring over the forest…. But I don’t really feel the need to pretend to be a branch.’ Hooter kept very still. ‘Oh yes, I know you fly sometimes… when I don’t cook bacon.’ Hooter fluffed his wings, blinked his strange, slitty eyes, and turned himself around to face away from his friend. Rodger chuckled. ‘No need to be like that. It’s all so unseemly anyhow, changing one’s form; just as me ol’ mum says, it is.’
Out of a nearby bush a fox emerged, tail streaming out like a banner, and trotted right up to the fire. Rodger smiled at it. ‘Look ‘ooter – a friend for us tonight.’ He reached into his coat and pulled out some beef jerky. The fox sniffed, pointed, and stood up, its body morphing into a young woman with golden blonde, straw-like hair, who stood, hands on hips, and looked at him. Rodger snorted.
‘Some timing you ‘ave!’
‘Sure you want to give me food? Unseemly shape-shifter that I am?’ The woman smiled, knelt down and put her hands around the tea billy, and the bubbles began to appear in the water. Rodger looked sidelong at Hooter.
‘Witch like us ‘ooter. What do you think?’ Hooter raised his eyelids a crack and peered back at Rodger.
‘I won’t tell if you won’t.’ Rodger said to the bird. Hooter made a quiet murmuring sound.
‘Yeah yeah, you can ‘ave extra bacon.’ Rodger pulled the iron frying pan out of his pack, and the young woman sat down opposite them.