The wind tore between the branches of the trees and Claire sensed a coldness tugging on her nerve endings. The narrow lane had been lit before, but today, at dusk it seemed to magnify gloominess. She’d only come outside to walk the cocker – not hers – an elderly neighbours and she’d been out walking longer than planned, her distracted thoughts gently rocking her forward.
The paved lane narrowed to become a path with the red sand you sometimes see nearby clay-fed land. She cursed her shoes – the sand had got in – and she tripped herself up as she scrunched her toes in an attempt to part the grainy texture. Only losing pace by a stride, she smoothed her coat, a nervous gesture, and continued on.
The dog (Bryn) perked up at the sight of a bird on the path and galloped ahead. Surprised to see the bird remain motionless, Claire picked up pace towards both Bryn and the bird. Bryn growled a low discord of distress. Claire could see now it was a Jay bird. Putting Bryn back on the leash for moment Claire stood above the bird and tilted her head for a better view. The bird imitated back. Cocking its head, it looked directly through her, as if seeing something else. And then gone. Bryn and Claire were left standing on the path with a stale breeze from flapped wings.
The next day Claire and Mike sat down for lunch in the cottage and mulled over the strategy for the rest of the day. The main aim was to do up the cottage as much as they could themselves and then sell it on to a young couple who would breathe new life into the building, and make it a home.
“I’ll take Bryn out today”, Mike said with enthusiasm.
He was gone just an hour and came bounding back in with the dog leash and an old brown book in his hand.
“Where did you get that?” Claire felt a familiar tug on her nerve fibres.
“The path. You know up there?”
Claire made a small O shape with her mouth and carried on digging the screw driver into the paint lid to lever the top off.
The battered book Mike discovered now sat on the kitchen worktop, a foreign object in the hub of the country cottage. Claire’s eyes kept drawing towards it, with a slow magnet pull. She boiled the kettle and stared out of the window, listening to it gaining bubbling momentum.
A grey shadow passed the window and her eyes bolted upwards. The Jay bird again. It cocked its head, in a mocking way. It flew full force into the closed window. The angry flaps stopped. Horrified, Claire ran outside to collect the dead bird. But it had gone. In its place on the grass lay the strange book, which just moments ago had stood propped on the sill, against the closed kitchen window.
Picture citation: Nick Kenrick, Down the Lane…day CC BY NC SA 2.0