Today I thought I'd post a short story I wrote a while back, as
a) I haven't updated my blog for ages.
b) I don't have any novel news, or anything I can really talk about.
c) I'm currently focusing on writing full-length fiction, and working on a handful of horrible-as in grim and terrifying, not awful, I hope- children's books, so selling short stories isn't as high up on my agenda as it was.
d) I just can't be bothered to go through the submit-wait forever-get rejected- process at this point in time. I'm a slush reader and while I'm happy to man that side of the wall, on the other side I'm a wimp. The slush pile is brutal and my blog is kind and accepting.
So, a tale of murderous moms and suuuuper-beaky bird freaks (plus a wiki link to shrikes and their behaviour at the bottom. Oh, and the picture is from the TV series Hannibal, whose Shrike-like serial killer provided the spark of inspiration):
A Letter to the Widowed Mrs Wilkinson.
Dear Mrs Wilkinson,
I, Hazel, and my sister, Heather are very sorry about the death of your husband. Mr Wilkinson was sound. He always gave us sherbet lemons and cola cubes, and when Heather went shrike that day in the corner shop and tried to impale Mark Evans on top of the plastic whirly cornet on top of the ice-cream fridge, he stuck up for her, waving his walking stick at Mark Evans and calling him a nasty bag of washing, and then going all mafia and tight-lipped and not saying shit when the police came, except for telling them to "bugger off and catch some real criminals".
But I'm going off track. I'd start again but this is the last piece of paper. Heather started the first letter, and blubbered all over it, smudging the ink, and Mom's shredded the rest of the writing pad to make a nest. She's plucked out half her feathers since what happened, happened, and there's no pillows left on the bed. She's mental when she's stressed.
So, Mark Evans told everyone at school- "those two f-ers tried to peck my f-ing face off!"- and where Ms Foggerty (long grey hair, lives at number 54?) used to be the baby-eating-witch-weirdo around here, just because she did an Irish jig around the park, tripping her tits off on mushrooms last solstice, me and Heather became the new monsters.
"Suuuuper-freak, Suuuper-freak, they're suuuuper beaky," they sing, thinking they're cool even though they're singing songs that even my mom wouldn't get up and dance to. You might have heard them, if your hearing isn't knackered. And if it is, then I hope it's because you went to too many rock concerts in the 60s, or because you didn't wear a helmet when you were zooming through the countryside on a big Harley Davidson, with your cheeks burning bright and hair all tangled. Thinking of you and Mr Wilkinson young makes me sad. Mom said you and him were born in the war, she shouted it, "THEY SURVIVED HITLER, AND THEN…THIS!" but then Heather was shaking so hard that mom had to shut up.
I wish I couldn't hear, sometimes. Most of the time. Me and Heather always play deaf, humming on the bus on the way to school, and singing as we shake the spit-ball paper from our hair in the playground, swinging it about like Beyoncé and smiling like we're in a toothpaste advert. You probably don’t know Beyoncé. And you probably don’t have to worry about your real teeth, so couldn’t give a shit about toothpaste, either. But Queen Bee doesn’t live in this neighbourhood, which is your whole world now you can’t walk far, so I don’t suppose it matters much. We could kill those kids at school, well Heather probably, I'm too young, but we don’t.
"Guilt will eat you alive!" Mom screeches that every time she wakes up with what's left of her feathers slick with blood, and her stomach churning from all the livers and hearts and kidneys she gulped down the night before. She's lucky it's so rough around here, and that people get stabbed as much as they get impaled on rusted railings, or we'd have detectives smoking all over our garden and mom threatening to peck her old boyfriends' eyes out unless they gave her alibis.
It used to crack us up, watching mom groaning and clutching at her head, like some pisshead who's had too much vodka, her eyes growing wide as memories lurched down the twisty, back alleys of her mind and whacked her upside the head. Me and Heather would give each other side-eyes as the laptop came out -mom rocking and clucking over it in her dressing gown, her skin rubbed pink and smelling of vanilla and jasmine- her disappearing talons click-clacking over the keys as she looked for herbs and head-shrinkers and hypnotists; for something that could fix her.
"The last time, the last time," she'd mutter, and then she'd close the laptop, sneaky, like, and mumble something about flat batteries and pretend to plug it in, and me and Heather would smirk, 'cus she don't want to be cured. Not when she remembers how the black sky unrolled in front of her like she was a princess, and about how she rode the bucking North wind like she was wearing spurs and cowboy boots speckled with stars. That's why dad left. Breath like a rotting sausage he could handle, but not that glimmer he sometimes saw in her eyes.
But she means it now, I think. Now Heather's turning, which means I might do the same. And it's not so funny anymore. Nothing's funny, anymore.
So, Mrs Wilkinson. I know I’ve been babbling on and on but I didn’t want to get to it or deal with it but that’s the whole point of me writing this. Me and Heather had gone to the shops that night, and we were walking back, stuffing flaky cod and vinegary chips into our gobs, when Heather went off. She started twitching, and then there was this weird sound coming from her throat. Pickled onion, I thought, as that old perv in the chippie had chucked her one in for free, and I was trying to remember that move we learned in first aid- under the ribs, and up- in case she was choking, but no, there was the onion, sitting slap-bang in the middle of her greasy, polystyrene tray like an all-knowing eyeball.
"Hev?" I said, but she pushed me away, and her face was changing, turning, and my heart was racing knowing what was happening but hoping it weren't. She hadn't gone shrike-like since last summer (Mark Evans and his f-ing face), and we thought that that was a one-off, hormones, or something, but as I watched her she chucked back her head and started cawing, hooting, the sound coming like a car alarm, like a hammer to the temples, making me flinch and your Mr Wilkinson yank open the curtains.
I saw his shape, shoulders up, against the dim lamp-light of your sitting room, and then there was the clanking of all your locks and bolts opening (and if I find those druggies who burgled you, I'll set mom on them, I swear) and then Mr Wilkinson was heading across your garden in his slippers, pushing back his glasses and looking all worried. For us. Coming to see that we were ok.
It kills me to think of it.
He was a good man; a good, good, good man, your husband, but you loved him, so I'm not telling you nothing you didn't know. Seeing you and him together always made me smile, going around the supermarket, or him snipping roses as you sat with your face in a paperback in your garden when it was warm enough, and while I don't know shit about romance, I'm not even twelve, I know what you had was more than all that Romeo and Juliet stuff we did at school. Sixty years you'd been together, and while his socks might have stunk, and he might have slurped his soup and made you mad, you and him were knitted together, tight as, close as, like me and my sister – you'd unravel without each other- and he was doing a good, good, good thing that night, when Heather flew at him.
She was too fast to grab, and then there was a splitting and ripping as wings broke through her blazer, and then she'd grabbed Mr Wilkinson and they were both going up into the air, higher and higher, over the roofs and the lamp-posts and veering all over the sky like clowns on a wobbly bike.
“Leave him alone, Heather!” I shouted, and while my eyes were fizzing with coke from the can I'd dropped, I saw a flicker across her face, and then the beak that was growing went back in and Heather was her again, just a girl again, and she was so scared she nearly pissed herself, and I nearly pissed myself, and her arms were straining but she couldn’t hold him, and her wings were shrinking and hurting her, she said, like needles going into her skin, a thousand at once. And Mr Wilkinson, he was too heavy. Just too heavy. And I'm sorry. So, so sorry. It’s my fault, as well as hers. Maybe if I didn’t call her, or if I’d tried to fly up to her, even though I haven’t got wings; I've not got nothing, not even a feather. Yet. But then you haven't got nothing now, neither, but a load of lies about a heart attack, and a cold side of the bed, and a letterbox jammed with cheap cards.
Heather said you know, Mrs Wilkinson. When she tried to leave those flowers she'd spent her pocket money on your doorstep, and sneak off, she felt your hand on her shoulder.
“Forgive yourself, dear,” you said, and while Heather couldn't turn and look at you, she took your wrinkled hand, and seeing your wedding ring she said she felt herself swelling with tears and temper and questions, and she wanted to ask where your children were, and why they didn't visit, and ask why you lived here, still, in this neighbourhood that had gone to shit, and why you didn't move somewhere safer, away from us, the monsters, the weirdos, the suuuuper beaky-freaks; them that only brought darkness and death, even if we didn't mean to, but then you whispered something else, said it so quiet that Heather only just caught it, a shiver of sound, like wind through the petals of wilting lilies.
She’s asked me to ask you if you meant it. And if you do, then she'll do it, swear down and cross her heart. Leave the upstairs light on, and stand in the garden at midnight. You're light, Mrs Wilkinson, just a sparrow, and Heather's sadness has made her hawk-strong. There's soft fields of bluebells, somewhere, away from these boxy houses with their broken windows and the pylons and the grey streets that stink of piss and weed; away from your small rooms made wide with missing and your pictures turned face-down on the mantelpiece as you can't bear to look at them no more, and up there, above this shitty world that makes bombs and bird-freaks and that takes away the boy you loved, there's nothing but stars, and silence, but for the thump-thump-thump of your heart.