Review – A Sextet Of Shorts by Chris Hall

What a very pleasant surprise it was when Joe Leonardi, aka the Short Story Scribe, emailed me the other day to say he’d enjoyed my slim volume of short stories; and now he’s posted such an encouraging review.

Do please check out Joe’s work too: he’s recently published a new novella entitled ‘The Comfort of Despair’.  I’ve got my copy, have you?

Short Story Scribe

A Sextet of Shorts by [Hall, Chris]I enjoy good short stories, and in thisSextet of Shorts, Chris Hall does an amazing job. Each story is complete and fulfilling, and left me wanting for just a bit more.

My favorites are “The Swindler,” because it left me thinking, and “A New Friend for Henry,” because it left me smiling.

Chris Hall, as usual, tells some good stories. Stories I highly recommend.

A Sextet of Shorts is available on Amazon.com  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C1NC397


“Who the hell am I?”20190630_1305207795170130459536580.jpg

I am an independent, self-published teller of tales,
an author, as of yet, scarcely any renown.
However, as a storyteller, I know who I am,
and with that persona, I am both confident and comfortable. I invite you to visit my website,

ShortStoryScribe.com

and/or Amazon Author Pages

Joe Leonardi              Scono Sciuto

if you are so inclined please
purchase a copy and leave a review.

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The (un)dutiful daughter

The Undutiful Daughter by Chris Hall lunasonline

Maggie trudged up the winding steps of the south tower, resentment gurgling in her stomach. Every day for the past 15 years since her father had passed away she had been obliged to carrying out the wearisome task. Every day of the past 15 years, as the big old clock in the hall struck twelve, she filled the copper watering can and climbed the tall stone steps. She was careful, oh so careful, not to spill a drop of the precious sweet well water which was all that must be used. Nothing sullied, nothing tainted, only the very best. Every day for the past 15 years she climbed to the top of the south tower to water a single bloom which her father had nurtured faithfully for as long as she could remember.

No one else could carry out the task. Not the gardener or the gardener’s son. Not the girl from the village who came to tend to her mother’s feet. Or, heaven forfend, the surly housekeeper, who prepared her mother’s meals, but not hers.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s mother sat in splendid isolation on a huge cushion-laden throne, from whence she issued orders and complaints in turn, which fell from her lips like so many leaden marbles, rolling over the stone floors to trip up the unwilling or unwitting. No task was too trivial to escape her notice, as she monitored the household through her all-seeing crystal spyglass. And, despite her great age, she still looked fresh as a daisy, while Maggie herself was beginning to wilt.

Maggie was almost at the top of the south tower. She rounded the last narrowing loop of the steps and arrived at the pinnacle. There was the single bloom. It never changed, never altered, throughout the changing seasons and  the succeeding years; its golden face, thrust upwards to the sky, surrounded by a plethora of pink petals. The petals never discoloured or dropped. The single bloom remained, static, unseen, apart from by Maggie and her mother’s crystal spyglass.

Lately, as her knees creaked and her back ached with the climb, Maggie had begun to wonder what would happen if she deviated from the routine. But it was an idle thought. She swallowed her resentment down. Duty must be served.

As she raised the copper watering can, a flock of geese flew overhead, honking noisily. Maggie looked up. If only I were free like them. Her heart yearned to fly away to a world beyond the castle; explore the unknown lands beyond the fields and cottages which she could see from the top of the south tower. If only I were free, she mouthed silently.

Maggie’s back arched unwillingly as she tracked the progress of the snow-white birds. She craned further back; her feet teetered on the topmost step. Arms cartwheeling, she desperately tried to keep her balance. The watering can flew from her outstretched hand. It spun as it fell, spilling a wheeling spray of sweet well water down the wall of the south tower.

With a superhuman effort, Maggie flung herself forward. Her face buried itself in the golden centre of the solitary bloom. Her hands clawed for purchase, pulling out fistfuls of pretty pink petals which showered over the steps. Maggie sank to her knees and steadied herself. Slowly she came up for air. Maggie stared in horror at the ruined solitary bloom. All that remained was a battered bare stalk with a smashed-in face.

Then gradually, as Maggie watched, the squashed centre of the solitary bloom plumped back out again. Features appeared: eyes, nose and mouth. Maggie blinked. The corners of the mouth turned up and rosy blushes appeared on the golden cheeks. Petals sprang out on either side of its face. The head of the solitary bloom turned; it gazed up and down, left and right, settling on Maggie’s open-mouthed stare.

‘You wished to be free,’ it said in a clear and musical voice. Maggie continued to stare. ‘Close your mouth, child,’ it continued.

Child? Thought Maggie. Hardly.

‘I too wish to be free,’ said the solitary bloom, its head bobbing. ‘I have been here for an eternity, marooned on top of this barren tower.’

Maggie rubbed her eyes.

‘We can both be free, Maggie,’ the voice sang. ‘Free as the birds on the wing. Free as the clouds in the sky.’ It threw back its head and laughed. Then it straightened up and gazed intently at Maggie. ‘You can free us both, Maggie.’ It nodded vigorously. ‘Would you like that Maggie?’

Maggie stared, transfixed. Free?

‘Free, Maggie. That’s right.’ The solitary bloom leant towards her and whispered something.

Maggie stood up. She looked around at the fields and cottages below. She looked at the wide blue sky where birds sang and flew. She stretched out her arms and took a deep breath.

‘Go on, Maggie,’ the solitary bloom urged.

Maggie bent down and ripped the solitary bloom from the earth were it grew. She held it aloft, soil cascading from its roots. The solitary bloom let out a great cry. Maggie took up the cry as she leapt from the top of the south tower.

Down below in the depths of the castle, the crystal spyglass started to shake in the old woman’s hand. It reverberated, taking up the sound of the cries coming from the south tower; louder and louder, until the very walls of the castle started to shake. The servants fled from the building and the old woman yelled and cursed on her cushions as the castle crumbled and crashed down around her. Moments later there was nothing but rubble and dust.

High up in the sky two snow white geese honked loudly, flapping their wings in joyous freedom; soon they had disappeared beyond the clear blue horizon.


From  a prompt by Hélène Vaillant of Willow Poetry: What do you see May-14-2019

The Tokoloshe

 

Tokaloshe

Auntie Rose was the first to notice something amiss that morning. She’d taken the first tray of spice-fragrant samosas from the oven and set them down to cool. She’d just returned to the stove when she heard a crash. She turned, cloth in hand, to find the tray up-ended and freshly-baked samosas strewn across the floor. Albertina came running from the stoep where she’d been sweeping, still holding the broom.

“What happened Auntie Rose? Did you drop the tray?”

“No, I put it on the table. I don’t understand how it could have fallen.” She bent down awkwardly to pick up the spilled samosas.

“Wait, Auntie Rose, let me.” Albertina crouched down and swiftly replaced the little savouries on the tray. She stood up. “No one will ever know,” she smiled at Auntie Rose. “The floor’s clean.”

Auntie Rose grinned toothlessly (she wasn’t one to wear out her false teeth by using them). “Cleaner that the people’s hands, anyway.” She looked at the tray. “That’s strange.” She stared around at the floor. “Did you get them all up?”

“I think so, why?

“Six are missing. Someone came in here while my back was turned.”

Albertina pulled a puzzled face. “But how did they get in? I was at the front sweeping the stoep, Auntie Grace is in the back room doing her knitting, and the window’s much too small for anyone to climb through.”

Just then they heard shouting coming from the road outside. Albertina snatched up her broom and hurried out followed by Auntie Rose; behind them came Auntie Grace, clutching her knitting.

Abdul was staring down the road in the direction of the harbour. The display table outside his shop had been overturned and all the pots and pans and gadgets and gizmos had spilled across the ground. A big blue football lolled in the road.

Albertina picked up the ball. “What happened?” she asked handing to Abdul.

“I only caught a glimpse of it,” Abdul said, retrieving a stack of brightly coloured plastic bowls from the floor. ‘Some kind of animal, about this high; he indicated a height just above his knee. Brown and very hairy.” Abdul shook his head. “I thought I heard it mumbling something though.” He shrugged his shoulders.

Abdul glanced down the road. There was nobody in sight, but there was a trail of footprints; small and wide with huge toes. Albertina’s hand went to her mouth; the other hand gripped the broom tightly. “Tokoloshe!” she exclaimed. She dropped the broom and ran past the aunties and through the house to her little room in the back yard.

Abdul looked questioningly from Auntie Rose to Auntie Grace as he walked over to them. “What did she say?”

Auntie Grace snorted. “Tokoloshe. There’s no such thing. A creature made up to scare naughty children. It’s more likely a young baboon.”

“Well, something stole my samosas,” said Auntie Rose walking into the road and looking down at the footprints. She pointed at the tracks. “Look, crumbs as well. That was my thief.”

Abdul and the two aunties stood contemplating the line of strange footprints. Moments later Albertina re-appeared. “I’m going for bricks,” she announced as she picked up the broom, brandishing it in front of her like a battle standard, and marched down the road in her bright pink pumps and second best wig.

“Bricks?” said Abdul frowning.

“To make the beds higher so the Tokoloshe can’t get you in the night… so they say,” Auntie Rose explained to the baffled Abdul.

“They’re short and they can’t climb,” added Auntie Grace. “Like us,” she glanced at her sister and giggled.

Abdul shook his head. He’d led a very sheltered life growing up as he had in Cape Town’s District Six.

Nearing the harbour, Albertina noticed more signs of the Tokoloshe’s passage. Overturned baskets and fruit lay scattered across the road; grimy hand prints were smeared across shop windows and ransacked dirt bins had spilled their contents. Dogs were barking everywhere and people were scratching their heads and surveying the mess. As she passed Andreas’s café, she was almost knocked over by the wiry café owner and three other men, one of whom she recognised as the man called Johannes who habitually sat by the harbour and had greeted her so nicely when she’d first arrived in the town.

“My dear, just the thing!” the man behind Johannes exclaimed, looking at the broom in Albertina’s hand. He put his hand on the broom. “May I?”

Albertina snatched it away, frowning crossly at him.

“My dear, I simply want to borrow it. It will help us catch the creature that I, the Professor,” he put a hand to his chest and bowed his head slightly, “so unwisely unleashed.”

“You mean it was you? You made a Tokoloshe?” Albertina said warily, looking up at the large, red-faced man.

“Tokoloshe..? No, my dear, I don’t think it’s…”

A hairy brown shape appeared from the side of the building,

“That’s him!” the Professor pointed.

Johannes reacted swiftly, running towards the creature, arms outstretched, forcing it towards the lean-to at the side of the building, while calling to his friend Sam to do the same. Sam who, Albertina noticed, smelt rather strongly of fish, ran across to block its escape. Albertina advanced with her broom. The creature glared back at them, trapped in a corner.

“Now what do we do?” asked Andreas.

“I need gold! Give me gold!” the creature chanted.

The Professor took a step towards it. “I don’t think you’re in a position to make demands.”

The creature stuck out its tongue. Then it let out a wild shriek. It tried to dodge past Sam, but Albertina was too quick. She shoved the broom in the creature’s chest, pinning it to the floor where it thrashed about.

“That’s what it said this morning, when I stupidly prized open this old chest I’d bought the other day. I didn’t know there was anything in it, but I was curious. I didn’t have a key you see and…”

The creature continued to struggle, grinding its teeth unpleasantly.

“Do something!” Albertina shouted. “I can’t stand here forever.”

Sam reached into his pocket and carefully drew out a small object, wrapped in a piece of oily rag. He opened the rag and held it out in front of the creature. “Here now, this is gold.”

“A real gold coin?” Albertina whispered, glancing at Sam in awe.

“Gold!” The creature groped the air with its long, grimy fingers. “Give me.”

Sam tossed the coin toward the creature. It caught it in its hand and started to laugh, but the laugh became a scream. The creature suddenly went limp. Albertina pulled the broom away gingerly. The creature’s body started to fade until all that remained of the creature was a dark stain on the floor.

Albertina crouched down, searching the floor. “Where’s the coin?”

But that too had disappeared.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

In case you were wondering about the tokoloshe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikoloshe

The Day the Soldiers Came

the day the soldiers came by chris hall lunasonline

I smile as I watch my mother play with my little brother Tommy on the hearth-rug. My father sits in his chair, still but alert. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I detect a movement in the yard.  I turn to look. Soldiers, four of them! By the way they are dressed, I know them instantly as ‘the enemy’. My father has followed my gaze as I gasp in fright and immediately he’s on his feet, sweeping up Tommy in the same movement and shoving him in my direction.

‘You know what to do Annie,’ he says quietly. He nods urgently at me and I grab Tommy’s hand and propel him through the kitchen. I look through the window, checking our route to the barn. It’s clear, so I open the door and we slide through and dash into the slatted wooden building. Behind us, I hear the soldiers hammering on the front door, shouting.

Although Tommy’s only little he knows what to do. Just as we’ve practiced so many times in recent months, I help him up the ladder to the hayloft. He doesn’t make a sound as we creep across the creaky boards and hide ourselves in the straw behind the loosely baled hay. We lie there, waiting. We haven’t practised what happens next. Then I hear a scream; I know it’s my mother, although the sound is like none I’ve ever heard her make. Her pain and terror flood my head. I grip Tommy tightly; he’s trembling and sobbing silently. The minutes tick by; I wonder what’s happening in the house. My father is shouting, but I can’t make out what he’s saying. The shouting stops abruptly and I hear the back door slam against the outside wall of the kitchen.

Heavy boots march towards the barn; I bite down hard on my knuckles. A cold fist contorts my stomach as I suddenly realise I forgot to drag the ladder up behind us. I hear the soldier’s heavy breathing down below. He’s pulling things over, searching. He approaches the ladder and in my mind’s eye I see him grab the ladder and place his boot on the first rung. Sweat runs down my back. Tommy is rigid in my arms.

There is a loud call from the house: ‘Move on!’ I hear the sound of the ladder clattering to the floor.  It settles and there is no sound apart from the blood pumping in my ears. Slowly I get up, my legs are shaking. I grab the rail at the edge of the loft and feel for the rope which we use as a swing when it’s too wet to play outside. Telling Tommy to stay where his is, I let myself down and run quickly towards the back door which is gaping off its hinges.

Inside the house furniture has been overturned and one curtain has been ripped from the window. My mother cowers in a corner. Her blouse is torn and there is blood on her skirt. Father’s face is bruised and bloody. He reaches for her, but she turns her face to the wall.

A Sextet of Shorts Cover pic

That was the first piece from ‘A Sextet of Shorts’, my little book of short fiction pieces.

‘Sextet’ is currently available to download on your Kindle for $0.99 / €0.99 / £0.99 and other currency equivalents  (+VAT) until midnight on 01.01.19.

And, since it’s the holidays, if you’d like a freebie, I will arrange to gift a download to the first 10 people who respond in the comments section below!

The well-intentioned arsonist

wood-explosion-fire-hot pexels lunasonline
pexels.com

Things might not have turned out the way they did had it not been for the arrival of the new science teacher, Mr Wilde. Keen to engage his Year 8 class at the start of the new term, he had set up a series of elaborate experiments which had resulted in some rather dramatic indoor fireworks. At least no-one had been hurt.

Jimmy was definitely engaged. He was even moved to pursue his interest outside the classroom. Guided by some useful websites he created some modest but interesting explosions in the kitchen until his mother got fed up of cleaning up the resultant debris. He even produced a miniature volcano, much to the delight of Miss Johnson, the young geography teacher; even though it did erupt all over her desk and make a disgusting smell which lingered in her classroom for days.

A few days later during morning break, Jimmy had been searching the school grounds for discarded plastic bottles for his latest experiment. As he scoured the side of lane between the school and the rugby club, he overheard two of the teachers discussing the future of the school while enjoying a surreptitious cigarette.

‘If the club sells to the local authority, we’ll be able extend the school on the site here. If not, the school will close and then who knows what will happen.’ Jimmy recognised the voice of the Deputy Head, Mr Staines.

‘But surely they’ll sell. It’s only a pitch and a tatty old pavilion. How much are they offering?’ The second voice belonged to Mr Davis, his History teacher.

‘It’s not a question of the money. Apparently the rugby captain’s great grandfather founded the club here and his ashes were scattered over the foundations of the new pavilion when it was built in 1956.’

‘So our school has to close, just because of some old rugger bugger’s ashes?’

‘I know, still, one good storm and there won’t be a pavilion for the rugby captain to be sentimental about.’ Jimmy heard Mr Staines reply. He ducked back into the hedge as the Deputy Head stalked past him back towards the school building.

Mr Davidson lit another cigarette and stared glumly at the offending pavilion. ‘Well,’ he muttered to himself, ‘climate change might solve the problem.’

Jimmy found what he’d heard very disturbing. He liked his school. He liked the kids in his class and he even liked most of the teachers. He had never been fond of rugby.

That afternoon during double Maths, Jimmy had an idea. The more he pondered on it, the better it became. It was just a matter of getting hold of the right stuff from Mr Wilde’s chemicals cupboard.

On his way to school on the morning of Tuesday’s science class, he dropped into Mr Khalid’s shop. Proffering a crisp £5 note from his savings, he grasped a large handful of his friend Mattie’s preferred chocolate bars.

Matthew Albright was the class clown. Plump and good-natured, if sometimes a little slow on the uptake, he was quite happy to rise to the challenge when Jimmy suggested he should test out his acting skills in Chemistry in return for favourite chocolates.

Mr Wilde was starting to explain the procedure for setting up an experiment to grow copper sulphate crystals when suddenly Mattie clutched his ample stomach and let out a loud groan. Pulling a series of dreadful grimaces, he slid off his chair onto the floor, where he proceeded to writhe and moan. As Mr Wilde raced to Mattie’s side, Jimmy stole across the room to the teacher’s desk and extracted the key to the chemicals cupboard. While the rest of the class gathered round to watch Mattie’s performance, Jimmy quietly slipped the key into the lock, and let himself into the cupboard. He swiftly grabbed what he needed. Within a moments Jimmy was safely back in his seat, the key was back in the drawer and Mattie had made a miraculous recovery.

Acquiring the step ladder from Stan the Caretaker had been easy. As it happened Jimmy didn’t even need to create a diversion.  He had been hanging around by his workshop when Stan had been summoned to go to the boys’ toilets on the first floor to deal with a flood. Stan stomped off muttering about paper towels and where he’d like to stick them, leaving the workshop door ajar. The step ladder crucial to Jimmy’s plan was swiftly liberated and stashed out of sight in the bushes behind the bike shed.

On a moonless November evening, Jimmy started to make his way towards the old wooden pavilion. He was carrying a torch and a small step ladder, and his duffle bag was slung over his shoulder. Propping the ladder against the side of the building, he climbed onto the flat roof of the shower block. He carefully dragged the ladder up beside him and crept across the roof. Jimmy prised open the skylight, gently manoeuvred the step ladder through the opening and lowered himself after it as it clattered to the floor. Jimmy took a deep breath. He opened the shower block door and stepped purposefully into the main part of the building.

Jimmy surveyed the interior by the light of his torch. Apart from some old plastic chairs stacked in the far corner and a few cardboard boxes piled up near the door there was nothing much inside. Jimmy dragged one of the larger boxes into the middle of the room. It had some writing on the side which looked like French; not one of his favourite subjects. He reached into his duffle bag and took out two containers. He shook out the contents of the first, making a small pile of reddish-brown powder on the top of the box. Then he carefully opened the second and gently added a white crystalline powder to the pile.

Next he took a large ball of thick twine to which he had tied a 1kg weight, taken from his mother’s kitchen. Using the step ladder, he reached up and hooked the twine over one of the beams which supported the asbestos sheet roof. Lowering the weight gently, he placed it on the floor. Returning to the shower block he positioned the step ladder under the roof light. Back in the main room he hoisted the weight up as high as he could, positioning it directly over the box. Grasping the ball of twine tightly he carefully paid out the thread as he climbed back up onto the roof. The twine was just long enough to allow him to reach the ground behind the wall of the shower block.

Jimmy paused, according to what he’d read, the two chemicals would be ignited by the percussive action of the falling weight. The resulting explosion should be sufficient to blow off part of the roof, a bit like a storm might. The sort of damage his teachers had been talking about.

He took a deep breath and released the twine. For a moment nothing happened, then there was a loud pop. Jimmy ran. Behind him there was a series of explosions. From the cover of the bushes, Jimmy saw the roof of the pavilion shatter and a succession of rockets explode into the night sky.

Had Jimmy been as keen at French as he was at Chemistry, he might have understood that the words on the box: ‘feux d’artifice’ meant fireworks.

Marketing books to the local community

 


A few weeks ago I told you about a little marketing initiative which I cooked up with my writing buddy, Paul English, involving a donation of the first two published books in his
Fire Angel Universe series to a school library. Giving a Fellow Author a Plug!

Article in Bolander Paul English-page-0Now I’m pleased to say that the article I submitted to our local newspaper, The Bolander, was published yesterday, both online and in print. ‘This is a long established popular community title which is distributed to 31 150 readers’ homes. Readers receive hyper local content with a focus on community news, including local personalities, advice and editorial columns, reader’s letters and sport.’  So it’s a good place in which to be featured!

Here’s the link to the online article, which Paul and I have shared far and wide (so you might even have seen it already): Author Unleashes Fire Angel Series.

We also have print copies of our books out there: Paul has some in a local art gallery and in our favourite local bookstore, Bikini Beach Books.

I have some signed copies of The Silver Locket in our local Mexican Deli, Senor Onion, (thank you,  Karen), they do great food by the way! And yesterday I presented a signed copy of Sextet to my podiatrist who promises to put it on top of the magazine pile in the waiting room after he and his receptionist have finished reading it (thanks, James)!

Wouldn’t these look nice on your bookshelf?

 

 

 

He’s Back!

My second cross-continental collaboration with artist, Suzanne Starr.

This story was inspired by Suzanne’s drawing which I saw on my LinkedIn feed. Once again, I found the images of her characters so compelling that I had to write their story.

You can find more of Suzanne’s artwork at www.suzannestarart.com – do check it out!

girl with big bird by suzanne starr
‘He’s Back’ charcoal drawing by Suzanne Starr*

Part of my Flash Fiction collection

He’s Back

‘That’s a pretty dress, Miss Clara,’ said the Stork, as the little girl approached him. ‘Oh, but you look sad on your birthday. Why?’ She is so tall now, he thought.

‘I wish I could just fly away like you do,’ Clara looked up at him with her large brown eyes.

‘What’s wrong, Miss Clara? You have a lovely home with people who care for you. Why are you unhappy?’

‘It’s just that I feel like I don’t belong properly. They’re not my people, are they?’ Clara fiddled with her lace-edged handkerchief. ‘You explained to me last year, you delivered me to the wrong people. I’ve been thinking about it all year.’

The Stork cocked his head and looked intently at her. ‘I know, Miss Clara, and I told you how sorry I am for my mistake.’

‘Did you tell the other little girl?’ Clara looked up at him, ‘the one who should’ve come here instead of me.’

The Stork hung his head, ‘no Miss Clara, I didn’t. And perhaps I shouldn’t have told you.’

‘So why did you?’ Clara was on the verge of tears. ‘Why did you, Stork?’

‘The two of you were my first deliveries and I got it wrong. That’s why I kept coming back to check on you, until you were old enough for me to talk to you and to explain properly.’

‘And the other little girl?’

The Stork shook his head sadly. ‘The mother realised something was wrong.’

‘My mother? My real mother?’

The Stork nodded.

‘What happened?’

The Stork’s beak drooped so that it almost touched the ground. ‘She thought the baby was a changeling.’

‘A changeling? What’s that?’

‘Some people believe that a changeling is a fairy child left in place of a human child which has been stolen by the fairies.

‘But it wasn’t a fairy child?’

‘No, of course not. That’s just a silly superstition.’

‘So what happened to her?’

‘She was left out on the hillside as is the custom in that part of our country.’

‘I don’t understand. Why would they do that?’

The Stork sighed. ‘They hope that the real baby will be returned.’

‘Oh.’ Clara was silent. She twisted her handkerchief some more. ‘But why didn’t you tell her? The mother, I mean.’

‘She could neither see me nor hear me.’ The Stork started to pace about. ‘Only little children can see and hear the Storks,’ he said over his shoulder.

‘And you couldn’t save the baby from the hillside?’

The Stork turned to face her. ‘She’d gone by the time I found out what had happened.’

Clara frowned. ‘Maybe the fairies did take her.’

‘I don’t believe in fairies.’

‘But maybe someone found her. Maybe she’s with another family?’

A large tear rolled down the Stork’s beak. ‘Don’t you think I looked for her; that day, the next day, the next week?’ The Stork sniffed and shook his huge dark head. ‘I searched for months and years, because of my mistake. That’s why you’ve been so precious to me.’

Clara went up to the Stork; she reached up and put her hand on his neck. ‘Poor Stork, I’m sorry.’

‘I will always be sorry, Miss Clara.’

Clara thought for a moment. ‘Can we go there and have a look?’ Clara waved her handkerchief towards the sky. ‘I’d love just to see where I might’ve been living.’

The Stork looked at her, eyes unblinking.

‘I could ride on your back,’ Clara ran her hand over the snowy feathers on his back. ‘It can’t be that far. If you mixed us up on the same night,’ she reasoned.

‘No, Miss Clara. It’s not possible.’

‘But Stork…’

‘I said no!’ He turned his back on her, hunching his wings.

Clara sat down on the edge of the sidewalk and started to cry.

The Stork couldn’t bear to hear her sobbing; he turned around and nudged her with his beak. ‘I’m sorry, Miss Clara, but I can’t.’

‘But it’s my birthday today.’

‘That’s the point, I’m afraid.’ The Stork folded his long legs underneath his white feathers and huddled close to her. ‘Today is the last day you will be able to see me or hear me. You see this is your tenth birthday, and after you pass the hour of your birth, you too will be blind and deaf to the Storks.’

Clara looked at him. The Stork looked up at the sun which was sinking below the tall buildings of the city. The soft feathers of his cheek brushed against Clara’s hair. ‘It’s almost time, little one.’ The Stork stood up, gently helping Clara to her feet with a brush of his long beak. The Stork faced her and bowed gracefully as the disc of the sun disappeared behind the dome of the cathedral.

Clara looked at him, wiping away her tears. ‘Stork, dear Stork…’ and as she spoke, his image started to fade, so only a faint outline remained. His voice echoed around the little square. ‘Goodbye, Miss Clara.’ Then his was gone.

That night Clara had a dream, a very vivid dream. A girl about her age was waving to her from a bright, sunny hillside somewhere. She looked just how Clara imagined a fairy might look and she was smiling. And every year after that on her birthday, Clara found a soft white feather on her pillow.

©2018 Chris Hall

*’He’s Back’ is one of two works by Suzanne Starr which form part of the ‘Into Darkness Exhibition’ at the Norwich Art Center, Connecticut USA. The exhibition runs throughout  October 2018